GENET archive


GMO-FREE REGIONS & PRODUCTS: Australia: On "self-serving organicfarmers" and scientists

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  GM critics ignorant, says chief scientist
SOURCE: The Age, Australia
AUTHOR: Chee Chee Leung
DATE:   16.05.2007

GM critics ignorant, says chief scientist

AUSTRALIA'S chief scientist has criticised opponents of genetic
modification, describing them as "unprincipled minorities" that were
spreading false facts and hype.

Speaking at a conference in Melbourne, Jim Peacock said those
circulating misinformation about GM were largely "self-serving organic
farmers and ill-informed environmental activists".

His comments were made during a session on biotechnology and food at the
Future Summit, where Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, said
he believed resistance to GM was starting to wane. "The fear I think is
gradually and slowly receding," Sir Gustav said after the session. "But
I also think this is something that doesn't need to be rushed."

The Sunday Age reported last weekend that the Bracks Government was
preparing to end the state's moratorium on commercial planting of GM
canola, which expires at the end of next February.

But on Monday, Victorian Agriculture Minister Joe Helper denied that the
Government had made up its mind, saying there would be broad
consultation before any decision was made on the moratorium.

Dr Peacock, who played an important role in developing GM cotton while
working at the CSIRO, told yesterday's conference that gene technology
had improved the world's understanding of living things, and "this new
knowledge should be put to the best possible use".

"I'm saddened by the delay that has been brought about by what I think
are unprincipled minorities." This group was denying Australia the
environmental, health and economic benefits of biotechnology.

The Biological Farmers of Australia described Dr Peacock's comments
about organic farmers as inappropriate and "a cheap shot". Greenpeace
campaigner Louise Sales said the statements were "outrageous", and that
those opposed to GM made up a majority of the population, not a minority.

The latest National Technology and Society Monitor, released by
Swinburne University and based on a survey of 1000 people, found that a
majority were uncomfortable with GM plants and animals for food.

Dr Peacock said that GM foods were unlikely to become part of the
regular food supply until consumers could see a real, personal benefit
from the products. "It could be convenience, and it could be cheapness,
but I think the telling one will be health."

Dr Peacock said that people like himself had "probably failed miserably"
in recent years to help the public gain a better understanding of gene

Sir Gustav said the technology's most valuable contribution was "how it
helps us to learn". "Even if we never deploy a genetically-modified food
organism anywhere in the world, the amount of learning that we are doing
through genetic modification in the laboratory is of the most profound
importance," he said.

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                                 PART II
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TITLE:  Scientists vote for GM cotton
SOURCE: The West Australian
AUTHOR: Jodie Thomson
DATE:   16.05.2007

Scientists vote for GM cotton

Genetically modified cotton would deliver a range of environmental and
economic benefits to farmers in WA's Ord River region, according to a
new report co-written by the Department of Agriculture.

The report collates a decade of research and will add to growing
pressure on the State Government to accept GM cotton rather than
maintain its ban until a review of its policy next year.

Its release comes as Australia's chief scientist, Jim Peacock, unleashed
a stinging attack on opponents of genetic modification, describing them
as "unprincipled minorities" which were spreading false facts and hype.

The NORpak report, due to be launched tomorrow, provides a technical
guide to cotton production in WA's north, and is largely the work of the
Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, with significant input from the
Department of Agriculture and Food and the CSIRO.

CRC chief executive Guy Roth said GM cotton varieties which were less
reliant on conventional insecticides and herbicides had opened a window
of opportunity previously denied to northern Australia.

The report was expected to provide a comprehensive information source
for the Government when it reviewed its moratorium on GM crops, and also
to the task force appointed by the Federal Government to look at
expansion opportunities for agriculture in the State's north, he said.

Department of Agriculture cotton project manager Geoff Strickland said
GM cotton traits such as resistance to insects and to herbicides had
revolutionised pest control and weed management for cotton in the north.
The introduced traits helped overcome problems associated with insects
which contributed to the failure of the Ord cotton industry in the mid-1970s.

He hoped the report would demonstrate what was achievable and add some
depth to the debate.

WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft, who has previously called on
the State Government to act quickly in reviewing its moratorium on all
GM crops, said the report was part of mounting evidence that GM cotton
in the north would be a valuable staple crop. "GM cotton is basically
ready to go," he said. "The only thing really standing in its way now is
the Government's attitude."

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said the Government had an election
commitment to maintain the moratorium on the commercial production of GM
crops for the term of Government. He said the Government continued to
allow contained laboratory research or small field trials, including
recently approved research trials for GM cotton in the Ord at a maximum
total area of 100ha.

A discussion paper on GM cotton by the GM Industry Reference Group, was
due to be released soon for public comment.

Speaking in Melbourne, Dr Peacock said those circulating misinformation
about GM were largely "self-serving organic farmers and illinformed
environmental activists".

Dr Peacock -- who played a key role in the development of GM cotton while
working at the CSIRO -- said gene technologies had improved the world's
understanding of living things, and "this new knowledge should be put to
best possible use".

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                                 PART III
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TITLE:  Health and nutrition key to wooing GM food sceptics
SOURCE: The Australian, Australia
AUTHOR: Matthew Warren
DATE:   16.05.2007

Health and nutrition key to wooing GM food sceptics

GENETICALLY modified food will be accepted by consumers when it delivers
clear health and nutrition benefits over conventional foods, Australia's
chief scientist has predicted.

Speaking at a biotechnology seminar at the Future Summit yesterday, Jim
Peacock said he expected a change of attitudes to GM food stemming from
its ability to add exotic nutrients and supplements rather than making
food cheaper or tastier.

Dr Peacock said this type of benefit would become more significant when
traditional sources of nutritional supplements, such as the omega-3
fatty acids found in fish, became scarce.

"The trouble is our practices in overfishing have ensured that our fish
supplies are not going to satisfy the need the population will have for
all those fatty acids," Dr Peacock told the seminar.

"We now realise it's not the fish that make those fatty acids, it's the
little plants in the ocean that the fish eat. And it's been possible to
learn the genetic sequence from those one-cell plants in the ocean that
are needed to help other plants like canola make exactly the same omega-3."

Dr Peacock said the evolution of GM food had been delayed by
commercially self-serving organic farmers and "unprincipled activists"
who had portrayed the technology as dangerous.

In the 1990s, Safeways supermarkets in Britain introduced a GM tomato
puree that was marketed on its GM properties. It outsold its nearest
rival by two to one before the campaign against GM began in 1998. At
that time, about 10 million consumers were eating the product, which was
eventually withdrawn when Spanish growers decided not to grow the tomatoes.

Eminent medical researcher Gustav Nossal said resistance to GM was
waning but said its proponents still needed to demon strate how it could
deliver benefits to consumers rather than growers.

"To say farmers are going to make 30 per cent more canola and therefore
turn a small profit into a big profit, that won't wash with consumers,"
Sir Gustav said.

Jim Falk from Melbourne University said consumers were resistant because
they did not like the way information on the technology was disseminated
and were uneasy with changes to the natural order of the food supply chain.

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                                 PART IV
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TITLE:  Discovery could lead to designer plants
SOURCE: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia
AUTHOR: Nance Haxton
DATE:   14.05.2007

Discovery could lead to designer plants

MARK COLVIN: Researchers at the University of Adelaide have successfully
developed hardier crops by transferring genes from tough varieties to
weaker ones.

The discovery could open up a new era of designer plants and some of
them could help farmers battling salinity and drought.

Professor Mark Tester led the team, whose research involved transferring
genes from weeds.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: Professor Mark Tester was fascinated by the question of
why some plants are tougher than others.

It's what drove him to develop the latest designer crop.

By passing on the qualities of resilient plants to those that are less
hardy, Professor Tester has produced crops that are more suited to the
notoriously difficult Australian environment.

MARK TESTER: So we're trying to identify the genes in the tough plants
and move them from those tough plants into the plants which have other
desirable traits like high quality or high yield.

NANCE HAXTON: Drought, salt and acid are constant challenges to farmers
struggling against the vagaries of the Australian climate and conditions.

Professor Tester hopes to give farmers the reliability they seek,
without reducing the size of their harvest, by passing on some of the
characteristics of common weeds to less robust varieties of crops we
rely on for food.

He says the initial results on their test varieties of rice and the
common weed Arabidopsis are so positive, they are now ready to apply the
same techniques on other crops such as barley and wheat.

MARK TESTER: If we alter the patterns of expression of that gene. It's
like turning on lights in a different room inside the plant. We're
turning on genes in different cells in the plant and that is altering,
really significantly, the amount of that toxic sodium reaching the shoots.

So the results are very exciting at the moment.

NANCE HAXTON: So obviously applications for really saline areas of Australia?

MARK TESTER: Absolutely.

We've got to learn how to turn on the lights in the right rooms inside a
wheat plant. We're able to do it in Arabidopsis and rice and now we have
to apply those tricks that we've learnt into wheat plants.

NANCE HAXTON: Not all farmers are happy with the new development however.

Scott Kinnear is the spokesman for Biological Farmers of Australia.

SCOTT KINNEAR: Well of course developing crops that have the properties
of resistance to salinity and drought are extremely useful. However, the
techniques that are used are the critical question that needs to be answered.

And any techniques that involve genetic engineering, cutting and
splicing of genes from one species across to another, we are very
concerned about the long-term health and environmental impacts.

NANCE HAXTON: So what are your concerns regarding genetically modified
technology, what are your concerns based on?

SCOTT KINNEAR: The cutting and splicing of genes across species
boundaries is the strongest concern people that people have to
genetically modified foods.

In particular we don't know where that gene sequence is being inserted
in the genome we're seeking to place it, we don't know which genes are
being switched on or switched off on either side, and that's a real
concern that we may be producing compounds in plants at high levels
which normally wouldn't have been produced at such levels. Or we may be
switching off the production of very important compounds in plants that
are necessary for good health of either the animals or the people who
eat those plants.

And we know that public resistance is still very strongly for good
reason opposed.

NANCE HAXTON: Professor Tester concedes that much of the Australian
public is not yet ready to eat genetically modified crops.

But he hopes to ease many people's concerns by combining genetic
engineering with conventional inter-breeding techniques that have been
used for thousands of years.

MARK TESTER: Well I think most people are not wanting to have GM crops
put in their mouths yet. And I think that's a concern to be respected.

But, I would hope that people will be able to start taking on board that
GM is a technology whose consequences actually depend on how it's used.

So if you're going to put into crops a gene that's never been in the
food chain before, I think you have a right to ask questions and people
are right to ask questions.

But if we're manipulating plant genes in plants - that is not
significantly different to what plant breeders have been doing for the
last 10,000 years and so I think a different set of questions should be
asked for that application of GM.

MARK COLVIN: Professor Mark Tester from the University of Adelaide
ending that report by Nance Haxton.

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