GENET archive


POLICY: GE crops and climate change (2): the Australian debate

                                 PART I
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  GMO emergency laws too risky, say Greens
SOURCE: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
AUTHOR: Australian Associated Press, Australia
DATE:   09.05.2007

GMO emergency laws too risky, say Greens

Allowing authorities to release genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in
the event of an emergency would be too risky, the Greens say.

Parliamentary secretary for health Dr Brett Mason said the Gene
Technology Amendment Bill 2007 would give the health minister the right
to release such organisms on the advice of experts in the event of a GMO
release gone wrong.

"This legislation strengthens the Australian government's component of
the gene technology regulatory scheme," he said.

"This scheme protects the health and safety of people and the
environment from any risks that may be posed by genetically modified

He said the legislation would be enacted with the knowledge that
governments must always be judicious with any release of any GMO into
the community.

But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said her party would oppose the bill
because it would allow the chance of a cure that is far worse than the
original disease.

"As they stand, these provisions would essentially enable the fast-
tracking of potentially untested GMOs ... into the environment which
would attempt to solve an emergency potentially unrelated to GMOs," she
told parliament.

"The proposal is to dispense with the full assessment process of the
potential impact of a GMO, not merely to expedite it or to speed up the
process, but to dispense with it in some circumstances.

"We are deeply concerned that this means an unknown, potentially harmful
organism may be released without any fail-safe provisions or any
understanding of how it may interact with other organisms or our environment."

Senator Siewert said a harmful organism release could create a situation
beyond recall.

"You could possibly be doing this forever without understanding the
possible consequences," she said.

"GMOs released into our environment without proper assessment and
testing may potentially have far-reaching and dangerous and disastrous

Labor will support the government's amendment, ensuring it will pass.

Debate was adjourned.

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Grains go on an even bigger 'health kick'
SOURCE: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation,
AUTHOR: Press Release 07/75
DATE:   08.05.2007

Grains go on an even bigger 'health kick'

A new generation of grain-based foods could soon play a major role in
improving public health, according to one of Australia's leading
biologists, CSIRO's Dr Matthew Morell.

In an address today to BIO 07 in Boston MA, Dr Morell says ongoing
research into new high-fibre barleys, high-amylose wheat varieties and
oilseeds which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, should soon lead to the
production of cereals and a host of other foods which will help improve
bowel and heart health.

CSIRO's research into high amylose wheat (HAW) is part of a $A12.5
million international collaboration with Australia's Grains Research and
Development Corporation and French farmer-owned company, Limagrain
Céréales Ingrédients.

Building on core technology developed by CSIRO's Food Futures National
Research Flagship and Biogemma (Limagrain's biotech subsidiary), the
joint venture recently produced an experimental wheat variety with an
amylose content of 70 per cent.

"Increasing wheat's resistant starch levels could lead to a reduction in
colorectal cancer risk and improvements in the control of blood
glucose," Dr Morell says.

CSIRO's RNAi gene silencing techniques enabled researchers to define the
genetic changes required to generate HAW and will help the team develop
both conventionally-bred and GM wheat varieties.

Dr Morell's team is also working on a new barley cultivar called
BARLEYmaxTM - a hull-less variety with 25 per cent of total dietary
fibre, plus resistant starch, which has an appealing taste and features
properties very favourable to food formulation.

"Another CSIRO Food Futures' gene-technology research project led to the
potential development of land crops with the capacity to produce the
same omega-3 fatty acids previously only available to people who eat
ocean fish.

"In 2005 a team led by CSIRO's Dr Surinder Singh developed the world's
first plants that produce DHA and EPA in their seeds - these are the
long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish," Dr Morell says.

"That groundbreaking achievement sourced genes from a number of
organisms including marine algae - a combination that allowed the team
to meet their objective to be the first to demonstrate that land plants
can produce EPA and DHA in their seed oil."

He says Dr Singh's team is now making significant progress in using
genes from marine algae to further optimise omega-3 expression in
linseed, canola and cotton.

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART III
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Accept GM food, expert says
SOURCE: The Daily Telegraph, Australia
DATE:   07.05.2007

Accept GM food, expert says

AUSTRALIANS will have to accept genetically modified (GM) food if the
agriculture industry is to continue in an era of climate change, a plant
genetics expert says.

Professor Mark Tester of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional
Genomics at the University of Adelaide said today that GM food should be
embraced as farmers battle the effects of global warming.

Prof Tester said a current study was focusing on improving the
"toughness" genes of plants so they could survive in extended periods of
drought, high-salinity areas or hotter weather.

Australian farmers who grew wheat and barley could benefit most from
changes in the structure of plants, he said.

"Genetic modification can help accelerate improvements in crop plants to
enable them to better cope with the rapidly changing environment," Prof
Tester said.

"There is no doubt that as farmers face reduced yields, they will need
all the tools they can get to help them grow our food sustainability and

"Genetic modification is one of those tools."

Prof Tester said he understood opposition to GM crops because the public
could not see any benefit, but technological improvements would produce
better crops for the future with less stress on the environment.

He said there was no reason why people who embraced organic and clean
food could not embrace GM food.

"Genetically modified food is about adapting the plant to the
environment rather than adopting the environment to the plant," he said.

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART IV
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Victoria, Australia researchers develop technology that could lead
        to doubled crop yields
SOURCE: Market Wire, USA
AUTHOR: Government of Victoria, Australia, Press Release
DATE:   07.05.2007

Victoria, Australia researchers develop technology that could lead to
doubled crop yields
Technology delays leaf ageing process

Research scientists from Victoria, Australia have developed a technology
that could lead to doubled crop yields, and improved environmental and
health outcomes, the Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, announced
today at the BIO 2007 Conference in Boston. The new technology delays
the leaf ageing process, enhances biomass production, increases seed
yield and also has potential molecular farming applications.

"The modification of plant ageing, referred to as plant leaf senescence,
has important agricultural consequences and leads to a wide range of
potential applications," said John Brumby. "It will mean farmers can get
the same crop yield from half the land being used."

Agriculture Minister Joe Helper said the delayed leaf senescence leads
to increased carbon fixation and thus to enhanced seed yields, increased
herbage production and quality. "Scientists from the Department of
Primary Industries, in collaboration with La Trobe University, have
developed this delayed senescence technology based on the targeted
modification of cytokinin levels in plants," Mr. Helper said.

"Cytokinins are natural plant hormones that influence plant growth and
development, including control of shoot and root formation, inhibition
of leaf senescence, and mediation of stress responses," Mr. Helper
added. "This research has huge potential for farmers all around the world."

DPI Research Director German Spangenberg said cytokinin levels are
increased in plants under the control of a highly developmentally
regulated plant gene promoter. This technology has been given the name LXR(TM).

"The LXR(TM) delayed senescence technology also offers significant
opportunities for applications in molecular farming which in turn could
result in high value products for health, bioenergy and environmental
outcomes," Prof. Spangenberg said. "We would be able to test the LXR(TM)
technology combined with the production of plant-based antibodies for
animal health, productivity and environmental outcomes, such as
targeting approaches to mitigate methane production from livestock -- an
important source of greenhouse gas emission."

Prof. Spangenberg said initial proof of the success of LXR(TM) technology
under laboratory and glasshouse conditions has been demonstrated in
white clover, a key temperate pasture legume.

"Results of the field evaluation of LXR(TM) white clover have shown a
doubling of seed yields, thus demonstrating the potential of the LXR(TM)
technology to enhance seed production," Prof. Spangenberg said. "The
LXR(TM) technology is being further developed and commercialized through
the Australian agricultural biotechnology company, Phytogene, a wholly
owned subsidiary of Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd."

Prof. Spangenberg said that the LXR(TM) delayed senescence technology is
currently being evaluated in a range of crops including wheat, canola
and lucerne (alfalfa) under laboratory, and glasshouse conditions prior
to field trials.

Victoria's ability to make these important scientific discoveries will
be further enhanced through the Bracks Government's $180 million
investment in a new biosciences research centre. To be located in
Melbourne, the centre will build on Victoria's international reputation
in plant and animal molecular genetics, and its application for
productivity, quality improvement, adaptation to climate change and
biosecurity preparedness. Other science agencies, both national and
international, with complementary objectives are invited to partner or
link in to the new centre.

Media Contact:
Michelle Linn
Linnden Communications
Office: 508-419-1555
Mobile: 774-696-3803
Email Contact

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART V
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Drought, pests, hard work - and success
SOURCE: Monsanto, USA
DATE:   May 2007

Drought, pests, hard work - and success
Reflections on an Australian family cotton farm

Stuart Armitage's family has always farmed. In the past, it was mainly
dairy farming, but 30 years ago they moved to their current property,
500 hectares of 75 percent irrigated farmland in Queensland, Australia.
They began growing crops such as wheat, barley, sunflowers and maize for
specialty (niche) markets such as low-protein feed and corn chips. Now
Stuart grows summer cotton over most of the land, with some maize and
occasional winter barley to help with water infiltration and overland
water flow reduction.

Stuart reflects on a lifetime spent on the farm and talks about how new
cotton seed technologies have changed the way he farms.

I first began growing cotton in 1993 along with my brother Peter and
father Doug. After two years of growing cotton we found ourselves
spraying 12-17 times in a season for heliothis (corn earworm) and began
wondering if cotton would be a sustainable crop into the future.
Chemistry was continually failing: spraying at 4-5 day intervals in the
height of the growing season was not going to be financially or
environmentally sustainable.

It was about this time that we first heard that work was being
undertaken on genetically modified cotton that was designed to reduce
our dependence on chemical insecticides. We couldn't wait... and didn't
have to for long. In 1999 we made our first extensive plantings of
Ingard cotton. The early Ingard varieties were disappointing, with poor
yields and low expression but we could see that the technology had a lot
of potential. Thankfully, Monsanto and the seed companies didn't give
up, because the heliothis weren't going to!

We were still doing at least 10 sprays a season and still using
expensive chemicals, so we relied heavily on the only tool we had - the
Integrated Pest Management Plan. It's a sustainable stewardship program
that focuses on using a variety of weed and insect control measures to,
in this case, reduce the potential for the development of resistance. I
was and still am a firm believer in monitoring both the pests and the
beneficial insects so I can control the pests at the correct time, not
too early and not too late, so as not to reduce yield.

In the meantime, we started to see advances in Ingard cotton varieties.
We needed very few sprays, and yields were becoming more acceptable.
There seemed to be a late-season reduction in Bt expression that meant
we were using only 3-5 sprays - and with yields approaching four bales,
we were pretty happy!

The research continued, and before long we saw the first of Bollgard II
in a trial site on our farm here on Wamara, and that year we only had
one spray and that was for mirids. It truly was unbelievable - we could
consistently grow high-yielding, high-quality cotton with minimal
chemical insecticide sprays. After enduring some incredibly tough years,
we truly believe these products were responsible for bringing the cotton
industry back from the edge.

Growing cotton is an extremely challenging task. Here in Australia we
have rapidly fluctuating prices and escalating input costs such as fuel
and fertilizer. Add to that some difficult seasons; two years ago saw
the worst drought in our region for 100 years. This past year was not
too bad - though we eventually ran out of water, we had enough
irrigation to finish off most of the cotton.

Growing seasons always seem to experience a dry spell, and if there was
a trait available in the future which could help the plant grow with
less water and maintain yield or use water more effectively to increase
yields, this would have huge potential for farming. The value of the
trait would be in having the opportunity to turn water use efficiency
into profit, as we do now with insect control and management of weeds.
These are benefits I and other growers are keen to take advantage of.

The job of growing cotton is certainly easier if we can reduce
management costs in the growing season while boosting yields. I'm
looking forward to Roundup Ready Flex technology and planted a small
amount this year. Since I am a one-man operation, I'm always looking for
ways to improve performance, control weeds and increase efficiency down
to the ground. It's also about the most efficient use of machinery and
labor over the whole property.

Thanks to Bollgard II cotton we now have a more relaxed family life (no
spraying every other night of the week), and I feel good about our pest
management practices. It's in reflecting on the past that I realize how
much I'm looking forward to the challenge of growing Bollgard II cotton
to its full potential.

-------------------- archived at --------------------

                                 PART VI
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Food sustainability may aid Australian agri-woes
SOURCE: AP Foodtechnology, France
AUTHOR: Neil Merrett
DATE:   30.04.2007

Food sustainability may aid Australian agri-woes

30/04/2007 - The food industry is failing to grasp the importance of
adopting sustainable crop techniques to protect against the effects of
climate change, says an expert on business agriculture.

While the food industry is showing some concern over raw material
supply, it had yet to comprehend the full extent of the problems it is
facing, according to Keith Jones of Croplife International, a global
federation representing the plant science industry.

In the last few years, climate change has already caused a surge in
prices for many grains and foodstuffs, as changing climatic conditions
and adverse weather continue to threaten stocks.

In Australia the effects are already being felt. Due to these conditions
and their affects on the country's harvest, grain value is expected to
undergo about a 21 per cent rise over last year to AUS$273 (?166) tonne,
according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource
Economics (ABARE).

But even with such signs, the food industry remains blasé. Jones
questions whether there is as yet enough commitment by food companies
into sustainable agriculture.

"I believe the impacts of global warming and its effects on global food
supply have not yet been fully understood and are not therefore high on
the agenda of food companies," he told

While some food companies may not share his concern, Jones added that
they were certainly seeing the affect of climate change on agriculture.

"The current drought in Australia has meant yield reductions of up to 50
per cent," said Jones. "Rice was not planted at all this year.
Ironically, even if rains do now occur this is likely to result in
flooding, which will also affect crops."

Many within the agri-business industry increasingly believe such changes
to global climate will result in depleted plant and crops species in the
years to come.

According to experts at this month's Global Botanical Gardens Congress
in China, hundreds of thousands of known and unknown species of plant
could face extinction from just a 2-3 degree Celsius rise in global
temperature over the next century.

To better protect the food industry from these dangers, Jones suggested
that a greater emphasis on new technology combined with local expertise
will be required.

"Changing climate is going to cause new pest problems in different
regions, thus effective pesticides and integrated pest management
strategies will be required, along with new plant varieties that are
drought and pest resistant," he stressed. "The use of these management
systems will allow sustainable agriculture which can further production
in an environmentally sound way."

Jones praised some steps being taken in the industry to drive
sustainable crop production, but suggested that it should take greater
consideration in adopting more innovation within the agricultural supply

"The food industry is promoting good agricultural practices, but often
tends to respond to lobbying by pressure groups, rather than
strategically developing a long-term plan," he said. "This has resulted
in 'bans' on genetically modified (GM) foods - exactly the technology
that may be necessary to counter the effects of global warming."

However, these sentiments are unlikely to be matched by environmental
organisations, which remain unconvinced that GM crops are both a safe
and effective solution in protecting food supply.

Groups, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, continue to
oppose any use of GM crops on the grounds that the long term health
effects remain unknown and could pose a risk to both consumers and the

While debate about sustainable methods is like to rage on, some in the
industry believe it is too premature to make long term predictions. For
example, the Agribusiness Association of Australia (AAA) says more study
is needed for industry to commit itself to far reaching changes.

"It is far too early to be slashing wrists at our plight," said a
representative for the AAA. "It is very difficult to judge short and
long term effects except with years of hindsight."

The AAA added that there was also an established pattern of drought
cycles within Australia's eco-system, and the current one may be the latest.

"Droughts are a regular part of the agricultural landscape in
Australia," they said. "We have about four dry years in the 11 year El
Nino/La Nina cycle. Our irrigated agriculture has for the first time in
fifty years been faced with the possibility of very much reduced
supplies from the Murray River system."

The AAA suggested that the industry should wait for at least a further
two years before making decisions regarding the true effects of climate

While many organisations seem in agreement that climate change will
prove to be a negative development for the food industry, some believe
that it could have certain beneficial effects on agriculture.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a
further 1 to 3 degree Celsius increase in temperature may boost
agricultural output in higher latitude and tropic areas.

In a report put together for policy makers the IPCC added that these
changes could change the nature of Australian production, with a
southern shift for the country's wheat belt and increased agricultural
potential in Northern regions.

Though all suggestions right now remain as speculation, the report
conceded that mid latitude areas as a result could suffer difficulties
in maintaining raw material supply.

-------------------- archived at --------------------


the news & information service of the
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)

phone....... +49-531-5168746
fax......... +49-531-5168747
email....... hartmut.meyer(*)
skype....... hartmut_meyer