Beer stays conventional, for now

Drinkers are unlikely to be savouring the taste of beer produced from genetically modified barley varieties, at least in the short term, according to Lesley MacLeod of Barrett Burston Malting Company.

Although the technology exists in barley to produce transgenic crops, Dr MacLeod told the International Barley Genetics Symposium that consumer concerns are keeping that path closed for the time being.

"All commercial crops of malting barley throughout the world continue to be produced using traditional plant-breeding methods."

According to GRDC Managing Director, John Lovett, genetic engineering holds great promise for the barley industry. "But we recognise that several areas of concern need to be addressed before the technology can be successfully employed," he said in opening the symposium.

"Capturing consumer confidence is a priority and the GRDC has noted the cautious position adopted by the malting and brewing industries with respect to the adoption of genetically modified barley.

"The industry could help itself by pointing out that it has depended on (traditional) biotechnology for some thousands of years and that the product has always been widely appreciated."

Professor Lovett said growers and the Federal Government through the GRDC were directly investing $6.4 million a year in barley research while the industry was also benefiting from generic investments ranging from molecular biology to farming systems.

Wide-ranging investments included:

  • three regional barley improvement programs
  • the national barley molecular marker program
  • the functional genomics program
  • the Australian Malting Barley Centre, and
  • investments in evaluation of barley malting quality.