The role of field trials

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CSIRO has recently been in the spotlight for its GM wheat field trials. Anti-GM campaigners, focused on the experiments’ implications for consumers, have destroyed the trials being undertaken in the Australian Capital Territory.

One of the GM wheat trials being undertaken by CSIRO involves high-amylose wheat. Wheat with high amylose starch content (greater than 50 per cent) is a valuable fibre source that provides known health benefits, such as reductions in colon cancer rates and a lower glycemic index (GI).

A second GM wheat trial is examining a trait that lifts biomass and grain yield, with glasshouse trials showing up to 20 per cent increases in biomass and grain yield.

Field trials are important in the development of all new crop varieties to identify both plant performance and commercial opportunities.

To analyse the new qualities of plants, a sufficient supply of wheat grain needs to be generated through the field trials. This GM wheat will not enter the supply chain for commercial human food or animal feed, but CSIRO aims to conduct rat and pig nutritional experiments, under controlled conditions, to evaluate the potential health benefits of GM wheat lines. However, human feeding trials are expected to be part of the trial process in the future.

All gene technology research conducted in Australia must be approved and licensed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR).

The OGTR has strict conditions for research and field trials are assessed on a case-by-case basis. All field trials undergo regular monitoring and the OGTR also conducts post-harvest monitoring.

The Australian grains industry supports GM wheat research and development, and many research organisations are involved in wheat research and field trials. The industry estimates that GM wheat could be commercialised in seven to 10 years.

In 2009, growers from Australia, the US and Canada joined together to launch a GM Wheat Trilateral Statement that supported GM wheat research and development and noted that the three countries – all major wheat exporters – would collaborate on the market and trade considerations for GM wheat.

In June 2011, members of the Australian grain supply chain met in Melbourne to discuss GM wheat developments in Australia and overseas and consider a ‘path-to-market’ for GM wheat in the future. The sector recognises that gene technology is an important tool for helping Australia to remain globally competitive and in addressing global agronomic and food production needs, such as food security, climate and disease challenges and human health.

According to the GM Wheat Industry Roundtable Meeting communiqué – which followed a meeting of Australian grain supply chain members in Melbourne in June 2011 – the Australian grains sector will continue to work with overseas partners to prepare an agreed and responsible path to market for GM wheat. The sector is committed to ongoing dialogue and transparent communication.

More information: CSIRO GM wheat trial information sheet,; OGTR issue of licence to CSIRO for a limited and controlled release of GM wheat,$FILE/dir092notific.pdf; GM Wheat Industry Roundtable Meeting communiqué,

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