GENE SCENE by Paula fitzgerald, Agrifood Awareness Australia*

Conservation farming systems and canola

A REPORT released by the School of Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Melbourne claims that the grains industry will produce $135 million more canola and wheat each year if genetically modified (GM) canola is adopted by farmers.

Rob Norton, the author of the report Conservation Farming Systems and Canola, developed a scenario regarding the introduction of GM canola into Australia. The scenario is based on GM canola replacing 50 per cent of current triazine-tolerant(Tf) canola, .40 per cent of conventional canola and allowing 160,000 ha of additional canola plantings (all GM canola).

The scenario findings suggest significant economic and environmental advantages from the introduction of the two herbicide-tolerant varieties, Roundup Ready and Invigor, which are currently before 'the Gene Technology Regulator for commercial licence approvals.

The key findings of the report are:

  • an extra 200,000 ha of canola could be grown under conservation farming practices. That is, maintenance of soil resources through minimal tillage and stubble retention
  • 640 tonnes less triazine herbicide used each year because of changes to weed management systems
  • average yield increases from 1.27 t/ha to 1.38 t/ha, with an increase in canola production estimated at 295,000 tonnes annually
  • increased canola,production (160,000 ha) into drier cropping areas
  • in rotation with GM canola, wheat production would increase by 64,000 tonnes on the additional canola area.

The report was produced with assistance from Avcare. Copies ofthe report can be downloaded from www.avcare.org.au or obtained by telephoning Avcare on 02 6230 6399.

NFF support GM crop choice

THE NATIONAL Farmers Federation (NFF) has released its position statement on biotechnology and gene technology.

The NFF believes that Australian farmers stand to gain significant benefits through the use of biotechnology, and that farmers should have the right to choose the production system best suited to their farming system, be that GM, non-GM or organic.

The NFF opposes government barrierS on access to GM technologies that have been deemed to be safe in regard' to human health and the environment by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

Copies of the position paper can be downloaded from www.nff.org.au

Review of GMOs in European pipeline

A REPORT outlining GM research underway in European countries was released in March. Titled Review of GMOs under Research and Development and in the Pipeline in Europe, the report outlines GM products being developed in the short, medium and long term.

New legislation relating to gene teChnology research, field trials, labelling and traceability is currently under review by members of the European Union (EU). It is envisaged that once clear laws are in place in this area, the de facto moratorium in place in Europe since 1998 will be lifted, and field trial applications will accelerate.

This report aims to be a resource for European policy makers, who will need to know what products are in the pipeline, what the research trends are, and what future GM products might offer EU agriculture.

Grain products under development in the short term (five years) in Europe include herbicide-tolerant wheat, maize and oilseed rape, insect-resistant maize and modified starch or fatty acid content in oilseed rape. Medium-term products (5-10 years) include fungic-resistanty; heat and oilseed rape, herbicide-tolerant wheat, barley and rice, and, for industrial use, oilseed rape with high erucic acid content for products such as plastic bags and fire suppressants.

The report, jointly published by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the European Science and Technology Observatory, found that field trial notifications have decreased by 78 per cent since 1998.

Kondinin surveys growers on GM crops

THE KONDININ Group's 2002 National Agricultural Survey of 1029 members showed 45 per cent were against the introduction of GM crops in Australia, 36 per cent were unsure, and 19 per cent supported the introduction of these crops.

On a state basis, 52 per cent of 330 farmers surveyed from NSW were against GM crops; in Victoria and SA 48 per cent and 41 per cent of respondents respectively were either against or unsure of GM crops, while 16 per cent and 18 per cent were in favour of their introduction. Most WA members were either unsure (39 per cent) or against (47 per cent) GM crops. Queensland and Tasmania reversed the trend with just 25 per cent opposing their introduction. In these states, 37 per cent were unsure and 43 per cent were in favour of GM crops.

Farmers who supported GM crops felt these crops would increase production and lower costs: Twenty-five per cent voiced conditional support - that trials andresearch continue and that these be strictly controlled, together with the marketing of GM crops.

The Kondinin Group has urged farmers to "get educated" about GM crops. For further information see www.kondinin.com.au

* Agrifood Awareness Australia is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate about, gene technology. The organisation is supponed by three peak bodies, including the GRDC.

Region North