Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.07.2013

GM technology feeds into global productivity

Author: Larissa Mullot - Public affairs officer, Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia
Logo of Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is a new joint initiative of Ausbiotech, CropLife Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation and the National Farmers’ Federation. ABCA has been established to help shape a new era for Australian agriculture by encouraging informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information. Through the creation and sharing of research and knowledge, ABCA’s work aims to place biotechnology and gene technology into context as another invaluable innovation for Australian agriculture; ensuring that science guides public policy for the future of farming.

PERCEPTIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY

Results from the latest Australian Government survey looking at consumer perceptions of biotechnology have shown a high awareness of the term ‘biotechnology’, but there is confusion surrounding the technology’s use and availability in Australia.

As a founding member of ABCA, the GRDC is keen
to ensure members have the opportunity to be kept
abreast of current and emerging issues in agricultural
biotechnology in Australia. If you would like to
subscribe to regular updates from ABCA, please go
to www.abca.com.au and select ‘subscribe’ on the
homepage.

Key findings of the 2012 survey include the following.

  • More than 80 per cent of those surveyed had heard of the term ‘biotechnology’; however, only 23 per cent believed they “know enough about biotechnology to explain it to a friend”.
  • 87 per cent of Australians surveyed had heard of modifying genes in plants to produce food.
  • Only 44 per cent of those surveyed thought that GM crops were allowed to be grown in their state, compared with 54 per cent in 2010.
  • The GM crops most commonly mentioned were canola (41 per cent) and wheat (22 per cent). However, GM wheat is not a commercial commodity and remains at the research level globally.
  • Consumers are confused about the use and availability of GM foods and crops in Australia: 55 per cent of survey participants said they did not know whether “most of the cotton grown in Australia is GM”, yet almost 100 per cent of the Australian cotton crop is GM; 36 per cent said they did not know whether “most of the fruit and vegetables grown in Australia were GM” (no GM fruit and vegetables are produced in, or imported into, Australia); and 29 per cent believed that “most of the processed foods in Australian supermarkets contain GM ingredients”.
  • Awareness of research involving genetic modification to grow human tissue or organs in animals for human transplants increased from 54 per cent in 2010 to 80 per cent in 2012, and awareness of gene technology research to control pest species decreased to 73 per cent from 83 per cent in 2007. While acceptance of these two uses of genetic modification in animals is lower compared with non-animal medical applications of biotechnology, more respondents still believe that the benefits of such research outweighed the risks.
  • Respondents generally thought that biotechnology would improve our way of life in the future (64 per cent), while 32 per cent said they “did not know” what impact biotechnology would have on our future.
  • Making foods healthier was the most valued application from a list of reasons why foods and crops are genetically modified.

The Australian Government has been monitoring consumer perceptions of biotechnology on a biannual basis since 1999 through the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

TASMANIA’S GM BAN FOR REVIEW

The Tasmanian Government has banned the commercial production of GM crops in the state since 2011. This ban is due to expire in 2014 and is up for review in the coming months.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and many dairy farmers have expressed their support for access to future biotechnology developments to help them remain competitive, while many Tasmanian fruit growers want to keep the ban in place, claiming they have a marketing advantage overseas.

GM ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMICS

UK-based advisory and consultancy services company PG Economics has released its annual report on the environmental and socioeconomic effects of GM crops around the world.

According to a media release, the widespread adoption of GM crops has delivered “an unparalleled level of farm income benefits for farmers, as well as providing considerable environmental benefits for both farmers and citizens of countries where the technology is used”.

The report stated that the net economic benefit of GM crops at the farm level in 2011 was US$19.8 billion, which is equal to an average income increase of $133 per hectare.

For the 16-year period (1996 to 2011), the global farm income gain has been US$98.2 billion, according to the report. Other key findings of the study include the following.

  • 49 per cent of the total farm income benefit (US$48 billion) has been due to yield gains resulting from lower pest and weed pressure and improved genetics, with the balance contributed by reduced production costs.
  • Use of insect-resistant cotton and corn has consistently delivered yield gains resulting from reduced pest damage. The average yield gains between 1996 and 2011, across all users of GM technology, have been 10 per cent for insect-resistant corn and 16 per cent for insect-resistant cotton.
  • Between 1996 and 2011, crop biotechnology was responsible for an additional 110 million tonnes of soybeans, 195 million tonnes of corn, 15.8 million tonnes of cotton lint and 6.6 million tonnes of canola.
  • If GM crops had not been available to the 16.7 million growers using them in 2011, maintaining global production at 2011 levels would have required the additional planting of 5.4 million hectares of soybeans, 6.6 million hectares of corn, 3.3 million hectares of cotton and 0.2 million hectares of canola.
  • GM crops contribute significantly to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. In 2011, this was equivalent to removing 23 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or removing 10.2 million cars (80 per cent of the cars registered in Australia) from the road for one year.
  • Environmental gains from GM insect-resistant crops have mostly derived from decreased insecticide use, while the gains from GM herbicide-tolerant traits have resulted from both the use of more environmentally benign products and changed farming practices, such as reduced-till and no-till farming systems.

According to CropLife Australia, GM cotton and canola growers in Australia have seen farm income benefits of more than US$595 million over the 16-year period covered by the PG Economics report.

More information:
ABCA
www.abca.com.au

www.innovation.gov.au/Industry/Nanotechnology/PublicAwarenessandEngagement/Documents/Emergingtechstudybio.pdf

www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-31/genetic-debate/4602694?section=tas

www.pgeconomics.co.uk

www.croplifeaustralia.org.au/default.asp?V_DOC_ID=2675

www.grdc.com.au/GCTV

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