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7-misc: Australien alliance to push benefits of biotechnology



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TITLE:  Alliance to push benefits of biotechnology
SOURCE: Australian Financial Review, by Cathy Bolt
DATE:   May 17, 1999

----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------


Alliance to push benefits of biotechnology

Farmers, researchers and agribusiness interests have teamed up to
try to regain critical lost ground in the bitter debate over the
merits of genetically engineered foods. Agrifood Alliance
Australia, launched on Friday, is a joint venture between the
National Farmers' Federation, Avcare, which represents crop and
veterinary chemical companies, the Grains Research and
Development Corporation, the Seed Industry Association, the
Australian Biotechnology Association, Co-operative Research
Centres Association and fertiliser company Pivot Ltd. The
Alliance said its aim was to achieve public understanding of the
benefits of biotechnology. It would develop a program to
emphasise the benefits of the technology, "with the belief that
through education comes understanding".

Concern about gene technology has intensified amid controversy
over the introduction of new laws which came into effect last
week making it illegal to sell food which contains genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) unless they have been given final or
preliminary approval by the Australian New Zealand Food
Authority. A rush of late applications by major biotechnology
companies brought to 20 the number of genetically engineered
crops which are covered, including soy beans, corn, canola,
potatoes and cotton. New laws also came into effect last week in
Australia requiring any genetically modified foods which are
"substantially different" to their conventional counterparts to
be labelled. But ANZFA is still developing a system to implement
labelling of "substantially equivalent" products - such as soy
beverages derived from herbicide-resistant soy bean crops - which
it was ordered to do last year by State and federal health
ministers.

In the meantime, several food companies, including Sanitarium and
George Weston Food, have reacted to consumer concern by removing
genetically engineered ingredients from a number of key products.
The Agrifood Alliance said its activities would complement the
Federal Government's national biotechnology strategy announced in
last week's Budget, which included a new, statutory gene
technology regulatory body and a new promotional body called
Biotechnology Australia.

In other developments, the biotechnology revolution in
agriculture has spawned another joint venture. The latest
alliance is Grain Biotechnology Australia Pty Ltd, a partnership
between a Perth-based biotechnology group, Biowest Australia, and
AgDirect Australia, a company owned by two West Australian
farmers, Mr Rob Hyde and Mr Graham Shields. Biowest's managing
director, Mr Stewart Washer, said it was confident other
investors would join the company. They are understood to be the
Grain Pool of Western Australia, Co-operative Bulk Handling of WA
and a research organisation. Mr Washer said the company's
strength would be in its ability to use its biotechnology and
skills with breeding to convert superior genes into new varieties
of wheat, Australia's biggest crop.

Mr Washer said the company's income would be derived from end
point levies collected on delivery of crops and through premiums
flowing from "closed loop" marketing chains, where growers are
contracted to grow specific varieties for particular customers.
He said the company expected to develop for release within four
to five years new wheat varieties with modified starch content,
herbicide resistance and pesticide resistance. Mr Washer said he
was confident consumer concerns over genetically modified foods
and food ingredients would abate. "Over time, the power of this
technology and the safety of this technology is such that it will
come to be accepted," he said. The new venture is the latest in a
spate of new businesses, acquisitions and alliances that have
emerged ahead of the revolution in crop production and marketing
systems expected to result from the introduction of privately
owned genetics.  



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