GMOs and gene technology in Australia
By Paula Fitzgerald, Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited
The results of three-year farm-scale evaluation trials of herbicide tolerant
genetically modified (GM) crops in the United Kingdom were recently released.
The independent crop trials were to study the effects, if any, of management
practices associated with GM herbicide tolerant crops (canola, sugar beet
and fodder maize) on farmland wildlife when compared with conventional
weed control with non-GM crops.
Some of the general conclusions were:
The presence of broadleafed weeds in GM maize fields was three times
higher than those in conventional maize crops, and therefore more insects
Most maize farmers in the UK use atrazine in their rotation, and this
herbicide is much more powerful and persistent than the herbicide utilised
on the GM maize used in the trials, and this had a direct impact on weed
and insect populations.
Weed control in the GM sugarbeet and GM canola fields was more effective
than weed control in the conventional varieties, so insect populations
were reduced in the GM varieties.
A CSIRO panel has released a review document looking at the implications
that this UK research has for Australia. The scientists concluded that:
For more information:
Background information, www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/index.htm
A non-technical version of the results,
The scientific papers, www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/
The CSIRO evaluation, http://www.csiro.au/proprietaryDocuments/CSIRO_FSE_appraisal.pdf
Some farm group policies from around the country were featured in the
last edition of Ground Cover – more are outlined below.
Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association (PGA)
This association, based in WA, endorsed its biotechnology policy in 2002.
“The Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association encourages and
supports the continued research, development, promotion and commercial
release of genetically improved plant varieties utilising biotechnology.”
More information may be obtained from the PGA by calling 08 9651 1703.
South Australian Farmers’ Federation (SAFF)
The current SAFF policy focuses on the use of gene technology in primary
production and is broken down into four main areas:
SAFF has also recorded its opposition to the commercial release of GM
canola in South Australia while issues of market acceptance, cost and
liability remain unresolved.
A copy of the SAFF’s biotechnology position paper can be obtained
by contacting the federation on 08 8232 5555.
Western Australia Farmers’ Federation (WAFF)
The federation supports a moratorium on the commercial release of GM
crops in WA for 12 months, and will then consider their release on a year-by-year
and case-by-case basis. This decision is subject to compliance with key
industry requirements, and industry involvement in decision making, the
protection of current systems, supply chain acceptance and preparedness
and the preservation of farmers’ rights to choose.
More information can be obtained by contacting the WAFF on 08 9325 2933.
The Federal Gene Technology Regulator, Dr Sue Meek, announced approval
for the commercial release of Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant genetically
modified (GM) canola on 19 December last year.
The GM canola has been modified to be tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate,
which can then be used to control weeds while the crop is being grown.
Dr Meek said: “The comprehensive risk assessment has demonstrated
to me that the commercial scale release of Roundup Ready® canola will
not pose a risk to human health and safety or the environment.”
Despite this approval, the way forward for the Monsanto GM canola, and
the Bayer CropScience GM canola variety approved for commercial release
in 2003, remains uncertain. Moratoria on the commercial release of GM
crops exists in various guises in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania
and Western Australia. The companies are working towards coexistence trials,
in some states, this year.
The Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
recently launched an analysis of quality management systems and their
ability to address supply chain management of GM and non-GM products,
in relation to segregation and identity preservation.
Four case studies were undertaken, and the two relevant to the grains
industry were canola from paddock to production of canola oil, and pasture
from paddock to milk production.
The report provided a broad overview of the existing systems. Across
the four case studies, the potential system weaknesses identified included:
The report, titled Gap analysis in relation to Quality Management
for the Supply Chain Management of Genetically Modified (GM) products:
Supply chain identity preservation and segregation case studies,
can be downloaded from www.daff.gov.au/agbiotech.