GM crop moratorium set to extend in SA

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The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate and decision-making about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by a number of agricultural sectors and organisations all working to ensure the Australian farming sector can appropriately access and adopt this technology for the benefit of Australian agriculture.

South Australia’s GM crop ban is set to be extended until 2025 after a bill put forward by the Greens passed the upper house by a single vote on 15 November. The bill is also expected to pass the lower house.

The current ban, due to expire on 1 September 2018, was to be debated next year, but the Greens successfully put forward a motion to extend it for another six years.

Grain Producers SA chair and Parilla farmer Wade Dabinett described the decision as as “unmitigated disaster”, not just for the grains industry but for the whole state.

“We have had a moratorium in place, which has put us a decade behind other states. I am flabbergasted that we have a policy in place with no public consultation,” Mr Dabinett said.

He said he did not understand how this topic was still being discussed.

“We continue to see this issue being kicked around like a political football at the expense of a significant industry – agriculture,” he said.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) also expressed dismay following the move. NFF president Fiona Simson said the move would curtail the fortunes of SA’s grain growers. “Growers in all other grain-producing states are successfully growing GM canola, which has GM traits for weed management,” she said.

“Today’s actions by the South Australian upper house effectively put the state’s growers behind their national counterparts and, of equal concern, behind their international competitors. Frustratingly, the decision is at odds with established science and economic modelling and was made without any consultation with the farm sector.

“It is a disappointing situation when a government doesn’t bother to consult with the people that its decisions will most affect.” Ms Simson said the science was clear – food from GM crops was as safe as that from conventional crops.

CropLife Australia chief executive officer Matthew Cossey said independent market analysis undertaken by Mecardo in 2016 and 2017 clearly showed there was little evidence that SA growers achieved a premium for non-GM canola due to the ban. The Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and Senator for South Australia, Anne Ruston, said the moratorium’s extension until 2025 was a threat to innovation in agriculture.

Research in the pipeline

A licence for the commercial release in Australia of a GM canola with boosted omega-3 oil content (so-called ‘DHA canola’) is being sought from the Gene Technology Regulator.

The GM canola contains seven introduced genes involved in fatty acid biosynthesis. The genes are sourced from yeast and marine microalgae and encode enzymes that help the GM canola accumulate a high proportion of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Long-chain fatty acids such as DHA, which are widely used as human dietary supplements, are normally sourced from wild-caught fish oils and algal oils.

Nuseed Australia, which developed the GM canola in partnership with the GRDC and CSIRO, is seeking to commercially release it across Australia (excluding SA and Tasmania where bans are in place for marketing purposes) for use in both the food and feed chains.

Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, is assessing Nuseed’s application to approve food derived from this GM canola and has completed a safety assessment.

The draft report concluded that food derived from the GM canola would be as safe as food derived from other commercial canola varieties. A GM safflower modified for high oleic acid composition in the seed, for use in industry as a replacement for petroleum-based precursors in the manufacture of plastics, lubricants and cosmetics, may also soon be available commercially. GO Resources Pty Ltd has applied for a commercial licence from the Gene Technology Regulator.

Field trial licence applications for buffalo grass modified for herbicide tolerance and dwarf phenotype, developed by RMIT, and perennial ryegrass genetically modified for fructan biosynthesis by Victoria’s Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources are also in the pipeline.

GRDC Research Code AAA00010

More information:

Australian Biotechnology Concil of Australia