SA to review GM ban

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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 South Australian Government announced in September that it would undertake an independent review of the state’s GM moratorium in coming months.

Experienced economist and agriculture policy analyst Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson AC has been appointed to undertake the review.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone said the independent review would evaluate the benefits and costs to the SA economy and agricultural industries of the GM moratorium.

“The former Labor Government rushed through a six-year extension to the GM moratorium prior to the election without any consultation,” Mr Whetstone said.

“There was no attempt to assess whether the moratorium was good or bad for the economy or our grains and agricultural industries.”

  • Under the terms of reference the review will:
    • assess available evidence on the market benefits of the moratorium;
    • assess the degree of awareness of the moratorium among key trading partners and food businesses;
    • where there is evidence of market benefits resulting from the moratorium, examine whether it is possible to retain such benefits for industry through segregation;
    • explore whether there are potential innovations likely to be available for commercial adoption by SA’s agricultural industries prior to 2025 that would justify a reconsideration of the moratorium; and
    • quantify where possible the economic costs and benefits of maintaining, modifying or removing the moratorium.

The review will not consider aspects of gene technology, which are covered under Commonwealth legislation, including human health, safety and environmental impact.

In a media release, the Shadow Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Eddie Hughes, said Labor supported a decision to review SA’s GM crop moratorium.

Mr Hughes said policy should be guided by the best available evidence – both scientific and economic.

In a related development, the SA Parliament’s Legislative Council has established a select committee to also inquire into and report on the moratorium of the cultivation of GM crops in South Australia.

The establishment of this committee follows a 2017 bill presented by Greens Member of the Legislative Council Mark Parnell to extend the moratorium on cultivating GM crops in South Australia.

This bill was passed with the support of the then Labor Government and independent the Hon John Darley. In passing the bill there was an understanding that the matter needed further investigation and Mr Darley intended to refer it to a parliamentary committee this year with the support of the Greens.

The committee will consider the benefits and costs of SA being GM-free and the effects of the moratorium on marketing SA products, both nationally and internationally.

It will also consider aspects of growing GM crops covered by Commonwealth legislation, including environmental impacts as well as areas traditionally considered by growers in making business decisions regarding the best choices for their farm including yield, chemical use and segregation.

Earth BioGenome Project

Following the recent announcement of the mapping of the entire wheat genome, an ambitious global project has been launched to map the DNA of every animal, plant and fungus over the next decade.

The Earth BioGenome Project aims to sequence the genomes of 9330 species, one from each plant, animal and protozoan taxonomic family as reference genomes in the first three years.

Then, one species from each genus will be sequenced in less detail as phase two (about 150,000 genera), with the remaining 1.5 million species sequenced in less detail still during the final four years of the project.

The project lists three goals: benefiting human welfare, which includes generating new approaches to feeding the world; protecting biodiversity; and understanding ecosystems.

Project partner the US Department of Agriculture said the benefits to agriculture include improved pest control approaches and speeding up breeding for enhanced plant and animal traits.

The project is led by scientists from the University of California, Davis, the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and its membership includes leading researchers from institutions in the US, the UK, Germany, China, Denmark and Brazil.

USDA Approves Edible GM Cotton

Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a GM variety of cotton that expresses low levels of gossypol in its seeds, thereby expanding its use in the livestock and aquaculture feed industries as well as making it suitable for human food use.

Cotton seeds contain high levels of gossypol, which protects the plant against pests and disease but makes cotton seeds inedible.

The GM cotton still has protective levels of gossypol in its shoots and leaves, but reduced amounts in its oil and protein-rich seeds because researchers have been able to turn off the gene responsible for producing gossypol in the seeds.

With the US Department of Agriculture’s approval, growers can grow the GM cotton, but they will need approval from the US Food and Drug Administration before they can sell the cotton seed for human or animal consumption. Currently, cotton seed can be fed to cows, which are unaffected by gossypol, but the new variety could also be fed to chickens or fish.

More information

Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia