Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.02.2004

UK trials should not cloud the GM issue hereBiotechnology policies of farm groupsSecond GM canola approved for commercial releaseAnalysis of supply chain management

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 were present.

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,
www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/results/fse-summary.pdf

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. It reads:
“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.