By Eammon Conaghan
Federal authorisation for the commercial release of GM canola through
the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has the industry priming
itself for the possible introduction of GM crops. Although State Government
moratoriums prohibit the commercial production of GM canola across Australia,
the OGTR’s environmental tick of approval brings it a step closer
to Australian paddocks.
However, one burning question is how it would affect sales to markets
preferring non-GM produce. While there seems to be endless conjecture
about whether or not Australia’s markets have any preference at
all, research continues on the assumption that some markets, at least,
will demand non-GM produce. This would require handling systems able to
separate GM and conventional canola during the hectic harvest schedule
and throughout the supply chain.
WA grain handler CBH is now working with Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Australia and the WA Department of Agriculture to see if segregation can
In 2002 Monsanto commercially released the conventional canola variety
‘ATR-Eyre’, which provided an opportunity to test the movement
of a novel canola variety through the supply chain.
“By segregating it as though it was a GM grain, we could identify
potential risk points in the supply chain and develop testing regimes
that gave confidence in the identity preservation process,” CBH
crop production specialist, Mr Peter Nelson, explains.
Ten Geraldton region growers participated in the trial. They had to clean
harvesting equipment thoroughly, always fill trucks via chaser or field
bins and collect samples of the first and last residues to pass through
all equipment during the transfer of grain.
Residue samples were submitted with the loads to the Geraldton receival
bins. Deliveries containing ATR-Eyre canola, even when mixed in small
proportions with other canola varieties, were fed into a segregated supply.
“The ATR-Eyre canola was railed to the Metro Grains Centre and
then trucked to the Riverland Oilseed Processors,” says Mr Nelson.
“Samples were taken each time the canola was moved into or out of
As one CBH operator said, diminutive canola grains are “like water”
and can leak through a small hole in the chute or through loose valves,
which makes its isolation a particular challenge.
So how do handlers contain elusive canola, with its reluctance to be
an inmate of a closed loop handling system? Enter Saturn Biotech, a molecular
research company based at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre.
It has developed molecular gate-keeping technologies which use DNA fingerprinting
and mass spectroscopy to police any fugitive grain trickling into the
mainstream handling system.
“These technologies have been used to differentiate varieties of
wheat, barley, oats, lupin and potato in the past and we are now developing
a diagnostic tool to identify DNA markers that can distinguish between
ATR-Eyre and other canola varieties,” Saturn Biotech Executive
Director, Mr Mark Pitts says.
Once the technology is ready, CBH can test all the samples collected
during the 2002 trials and analyse how well separation was maintained.
Even if GM never enters Australia’s handling system, the definitive
segregation of crops for different end uses, such as industrial and food
products, is still expected to become a necessity.
For more information:
Peter Nelson, CBH, 08 9454 0359 Mark Pitts, Saturn Biotech, 0419 700 493
Varieties displaying this symbol beside them are protected under the Plant Breeders Rights Act 1994.