GM crops garner support and opposition

Logo of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia

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.UK-based company PG Economics has released its annual report on the impact of GM crops, including economic and environmental benefits for the Australian grains industry.

Economics and environment

The report says Australian farmers have gained A$847 million from growing GM crops instead of conventional crops. 

 

UK-based company PG Economics has released its annual report on the impact of GM crops, including economic and environemental benefits for the Australian grains industry.

The report says Australian farmers have gained US$766 (A$847) million from growing GM crops instead of conventional crops. It also says that in 2012 Australian GM canola growers gained, on average, an extra US$47.50 (A$52.55) per hectare in farm income, plus an extra US$8.3 (A$9.2) million in total farm income. The report also indicates that Australian GM cotton farmers received a total farm income gain of US$129.2 (A$142.9) million in 2012, and that they used 54 per cent less insecticide on GM cotton than if only conventional varieties were planted. 

GM wheat update: InterGrain

GM wheat was said to be a decade away at the recent Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association (PGA) convention in Perth, but industry is laying the groundwork to introduce this technology when the market is ready.

Speaking at the convention’s GM forum ‘Farming the Future’, InterGrain’s chief executive officer Tress Walmsley said it could cost $50 to $100 million to bring the first GM wheat trait to market, which meant it was likely to result from a collaborative international effort, not the Australian grains industry alone.

“Things like the tri-party agreement between Australia, Canada and the US is a really solid fundamental step for us to take,” Ms Walmsley said.

She said InterGrain was yet to launch into biotechnology. “We are focused on using our current conventional breeding methods to make sure we’ve got the best broadly adapted high-yielding germplasm, so that when we’ve actually got [GM] traits that we want to take to market, we can put them into solidly performing germplasm for the Australian environment.”

Ms Walmsley said there were decisions to be made at the industry level as to whether Australia wanted to have the technology at the same time as the US and Canada. 

The GM forum was sponsored by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council as part of a GRDC-funded agreement.

Powdery mildew resistance

Chinese researchers have developed a GM wheat with powdery mildew resistance.

Researchers used gene-editing techniques to delete the wheat genes that produce proteins that prevent the plant from defending itself against the disease. No genes from other organisms were inserted into the wheat genome.

Gene deletion is difficult in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome, meaning it has three similar copies of most of its genes. As a consequence, multiple genes must be disabled to modify a trait.

Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs (transcription activator-like effector nucleases) and CRISPRs (clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats), researchers were able to genetically modify wheat without changing its other traits or adding genes from other organisms.

A paper describing the findings of the work to develop GM wheat with powdery mildew resistance has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Tasmania to extend GM moratorium

Tasmania’s GM crop moratorium is set to be extended for a further five years following a bill tabled in the Parliament of Tasmania’s House of Assembly in August.

The previous Tasmanian Government intended to extend the moratorium indefinitely, but the state’s new Liberal government has stated that a five-year moratorium “strikes an appropriate balance between the needs of today and the possibilities of tomorrow”.

The Genetically Modified Organism Amendment Bill 2014 is now set to be reviewed before its expiry in 2019.

“We will actively monitor developments in technology, markets and consumer sentiment throughout this period,” said Tasmania’s Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff.

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association chief executive Jan Davis said while the Liberal government’s decision on a five-year moratorium was better than an indefinite ban, opinion was divided in the farming sector over the use of GM.

“Research commissioned by the previous government confirmed the fact that remaining GM-free comes at a cost to Tasmanian farmers,” Ms Davis said.

“The government must recognise this impacts on farmers’ overall returns … we need to be open to reassessment of the situation as new technologies and products are developed, and as markets change.”

A previous report looking at the state’s canola market found that over the past 10 years Tasmania has lost $40 million due to its moratorium, Ms Davis said.

More information:

www.pgeconomics.co.uk
www.croplifeaustralia.org.au/media_release/australian-farmers-growing-gm-crops-gain-766-million;
www.farmweekly.com.au/news/agriculture/cropping/general-news/gm-wheat-still-a-decade-away-intergrain/2709004.aspx;
www.landesbioscience.com/journals/gmcrops/gmcr.32208.pdf (356kB PDF);
www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/liberal_government_delivers_on_gmo_pledge;
www.parliament.tas.gov.au/bills/pdf/18_of_2014.pdf (79kB PDF);
www.theland.com.au/news/agriculture/cropping/general-news/tassie-group-wants-gmo-conversation/2709387.aspx;
http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/Documents/Final Report_v.final_16-12-13.pdf (1.8MB PDF)

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