Australia's agbiotech at a critical junctureGM cotton yields more success

Agrifood Awareness Australia

By Paula Fitzgerald, Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited

Agricultural biotechnology in this country is at a critical crossroads and is in crisis, according to a paper released by AusBiotech, Australia"s Biotechnology Industry Organisation, which represents 2000 members across the various sectors involved in biotechnology.

The paper titled "Backing innovation: the way forward for Australian agriculture" identifies the impacts of state-based moratoriums on investment, innovation, education and Australia"s future in biotechnology. It also highlights the way forward in fostering an internationally competitive Australian agricultural sector.

Moratoriums have been imposed across most of Australia"s states and territories, to prevent the commercial production of two herbicide-tolerant genetically modified (GM) canola varieties, which have been approved for commercial release by Australia"s Federal Gene Technology Regulator.

The bans are in place until at least 2006, and up until 2008 in some jurisdictions.

According to the AusBiotech paper, the imposed bans will:

One of the current problems that agricultural biotechnology faces in Australia is that there is a lack of a clear commercial path forward. The AusBiotech paper suggests a five-point shortterm plan for industry to achieve a fair go for agricultural biotechnology:

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The performance of Australia"s least-mentioned GM cotton variety, herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready® cotton, is the subject of a recent University of Sydney report titled "A Snapshot of Roundup Ready cotton in Australia".

The authors, Dr Angus Crossan and Professor Ivan Kennedy, conclude that Roundup Ready® cotton provides significant environmental benefits, leading to a reduction in the use of pesticides associated with conventional cotton production.

Roundup Ready® cotton, which can tolerate early season use of the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate), was introduced on to Australian cotton farms in 2000, and within two years of its introduction, approximately 40 percent of all cotton grown in Australia was Roundup Ready®.

The uptake of this herbicide-tolerant variety, according to the report, has resulted in changes in herbicide use by growers. Glyphosate, due to its low toxicity and low mobility, presents an extremely low risk of off-site contamination and rates very well against other herbicides.

These results build on those already achieved by Australia"s insect-resistant GM variety. Insect-resistant GM cotton has resulted in a reduction in average pesticide use of 50 percent a year across the areas it is grown.

The latest GM insect-resistant variety to become available to growers, known as Bollgard II, is expected to see even higher pesticide use reductions, possibly up to 75 percent.

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