The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is a joint initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the GRDC 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.
The gene scene
Record canola shipment
The CBH Group reported its largest ever shipment of canola following the 2014 harvest, with the record load, totalling almost 78,000 tonnes, departing from Western Australia’s Kwinana port for Europe.
“This is a fantastic milestone for the CBH Group and further strengthens our position as the number-one exporter of Australian grain in addition to being the largest canola exporter in Australia,” says Jason Craig, CBH Group general manager marketing and trading.
In 2014, CBH sold and shipped more than 700,000t to European customers. Canola production in WA has increased significantly over the past five years, with a record production of about 1.8 million tonnes in 2014. The record is regarded as illustrating the successful coexistence in the grain supply chain of GM and non-GM canola varieties, without risk to markets.
Weed control changes and GM crops
According to an article published in GM Crops and Food: Biotechnology in Agriculture and the Food Chain, the use of GM herbicide-tolerant crop technology has resulted in a net reduction in both the amount of herbicide used and environmental impact when compared with a scenario of reverting to conventional production.
Looking at the GM herbicide-tolerant crop-use experience in the US from 1996 to 2012, the authors examined the changing nature of herbicides used with these crops and in particular how growers addressed the challenge of weed resistance.
According to the paper, many growers switched from a tillage to a no-till or conservation tillage production system using GM crops, deriving economic and environmental benefits.
In terms of herbicide use, the technology has helped to change the profile of herbicides used. A broad range of mostly selective herbicides has been replaced by one or two broad-spectrum herbicides (mostly glyphosate) used in conjunction with one or two other (complementary) herbicides.
However, since about 2005 the average amount of herbicide applied has increased on both GM and conventional crops. This is due to weed species developing resistance to herbicides.
Growers of GM herbicide-tolerant crops are, however, reported as becoming much more proactive and diversified in their weed management programs to counter this.
New GM crop approvals in the US
Several new GM crops have been approved for commercial release by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture in recent months.
Developed with the animal feed industry in mind, a second GM trait, a quality trait, has been approved in lucerne (alfalfa).
Developed by Forage Genetics International, Monsanto and the Nobel Foundation, the new GM lucerne exhibits reduced lignin levels in the plant.
Lignin is an important factor in plant stem strength and upright growth habit, but it is essentially indigestible by ruminants, and lignin concentration is relatively high in lucerne compared with other forages.
A potato genetically modified to reduce the amounts of a potentially harmful ingredient in fries and potato chips has also been commercially approved. The potato has been modified so that less of a chemical called acrylamide, which is a suspected carcinogen, is produced when the potato is fried.
The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors.
US consumers see GM benefits
Results of a consumer survey by North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota in the US show most consumers now accept the presence of nanotechnology or GM technology in foods – provided the technology enhances nutrition or improves food safety.
Participants were asked to answer an array of questions that explored their willingness to buy GM foods and foods that contained nanotech (such as food additives at the molecular level).
The questions also explored the price of the various foods and whether participants would buy GM foods or foods that contained nanotech if the foods had enhanced nutrition, improved taste, improved food safety, or if the production of the food had environmental benefits.
Some 40 per cent of participants said they would buy GM or nanotech foods if the foods had enhanced nutrition or food safety and 23 per cent of participants based their shopping decisions primarily on the cost of the food – regardless of the presence of GM or nanotech.
Nineteen per cent of participants would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits, while 18 per cent of participants would not buy GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances. □
www.cbh.com.au/media-centre/media-releases/17-november-2014-cbh-executes-australias-largest-canola-shipment; https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/countryman/a/25549534/record-for-wa-canola; www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/petitions_table_pending.shtml; http://news.ncsu.edu/2014/12/kuzma-tech-food-2014
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