Biotechnology: Use it or lose markets

GCA President John Lush on the future of the grains industry.

To remain competitive, the grains industry urgently needs a comprehensive strategy to take advantage of biotechnology advances that are revolutionising crop production, worldwide.

That's the take-home message from Grains Council of Australia (GCA) President John Lush, speaking after the Progressing Grain Crop Improvement for a New Millenium conference in Canberra.

Mr Lush said a coordinated strategy for taking advantage of the new technology is essential "or else others will use it to take advantage of us. Worse, our competitors will use it to put us out of business."

The conference, which was convened by the GCA, highlighted contemporary developments in crop improvement research and the commercial opportunities these developments present.

Biotechnology advances, dominated by the commercial release of genetically engineered crop varieties, are already affecting the playing field for grain growers.

"Biotechnology has agronomic implications and it has implications for the way growers' grain will be marketed in the future," said Mr Lush. "Growers also need to know what it means in regard to access to, and the cost of, inputs to production."

The conference offered key messages for the industry as a whole. "We must remember that the customer is always right. We must have access to overseas intellectual properly. We must give adequate protection to our own intellectual properly, so that it can be traded to our benefit internationally.

"We must work, both domestically and internationally, in partnerships of mutual benefit, particularly in commercialising our intellectual property.

"We must legislate and regulate this technology in a realistic and objective manner and we must have an educated community that is confident in the safety of the food they consume and aware of the benefits that this technology brings."

Mr Lush said the outcomes of the conference will focus consultation between the GCA and the GRDC in the coming months, to map a way forward for the industry.

In our last edition, Issue 23, Ground Cover Forum explored 'big picture' biotechnology issues that growers may want to be aware of In this issue of Ground Cover, Gene Scene, p22, discusses the current push for labelling genetically engineered food products.