Latest Biotech News


11 May 2016. Source: ABC Rural –

Debate got underway in the upper house of Western Australia’s Parliament on Tuesday night on legislation to repeal the WA Genetically Modified Crop Free Areas Act 2003.

The act prohibits the cultivation of genetically modified crops in WA. It was introduced by the Gallop Labor Government.

In 2003 canola was released in Australia containing a GM trait that makes the plant resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

Farmers in WA grow GM canola via an exemption to the Genetically Modified Crop Free Areas Act, but the current Liberal Government wants to repeal the act and remove it.

This would see regulation of GM crops in WA rest with the national Office of Gene Technology Regulator…


03 May 2016. Source: Weekly Times (VIC)

Exports of Australian genetically modified canola to Europe are expected to hit records levels this year.

Heavy discounts on the biotech crop are changing EU demand preferences. The EU is a critical market for Australian canola, but until now it has taken little GM canola, grown here since 2008.

Last season the discount on GM canola was more than $60/tonne after China dropped out of the market.

Five ships from Australia with GM canola landed in Europe late last year, according to grain industry sources and Monsanto, which owns the Roundup Ready gene patent used in Australian GM canola.

There has also been a spike in Canadian canola imports to the EU. Almost all canola grown in Canada is biotech variety. LachStock Consulting canola export figures for the past financial year show Canada exported 400,000 tonnes of canola to the EU, up from 77,000 tonnes in 2014-15 and 86,000 in 2013-14.

These figures also show 1.5 million tonnes of Australian canola has been sold into the EU this financial year.

Australian Oilseeds Federation executive ­director Nick Goddard said the non-GM premium had reached a point where canola buyers were willing to accept GM product…

Victorian Farmers Federation grains president Brett Hosking said growing acceptance of GM was encouraging.

“I think it’s validation of the science and research that’s goes into GM … it has a place in our production system and should be evaluated on its merits,” he said.


April 2016. Source: Media release, ISAAA.

Today, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report detailing the adoption of biotech crops, “20th Anniversary of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops (1996-2015) and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015,” showcasing the global increase in biotech hectarage from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015. This 100-fold increase in just 20 years makes biotechnology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times, reflecting farmer satisfaction with biotech crops.

It is estimated that farmers in up to 28 countries have reaped more than US$150 billion in benefits from biotech crops since 1996. This has helped alleviate poverty for up to 16.5 million small farmers and their families annually totaling about 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world.

“More farmers are planting biotech crops in developing countries precisely because biotech crops are a rigorously-tested option for improving crop yields,” said Clive James, founder and emeritus chair of ISAAA, who has authored the ISAAA report for the past two decades.

Following a remarkable run of 19 years of consecutive growth from 1996 to 2014, with 12 years of double-digit growth, the global hectarage of biotech crops peaked at 181.5 million hectares in 2014, compared with 179.7 million hectares in 2015, equivalent to a net marginal decrease of 1 percent. This change is principally due to an overall decrease in total crop hectarage, associated with low prices for commodity crops in 2015. ISAAA anticipates that total crop hectarage will increase when crop prices improve. Other factors affecting biotech hectarage in 2015 include the devastating drought in South Africa.



Organic farmer Steve Marsh loses bid for High Court review of genetic modification contamination case

Source: ABC News

The High Court has refused to consider the genetic modification contamination case of West Australian farmer Steve Marsh.

Mr Marsh lost organic certification over most of his land at Kojonup after genetically modified canola blew over from his neighbour’s farm in 2010.

He went to court, seeking more than $80,000 in compensation, but the Supreme Court dismissed the case in 2014.

The court found neighbour Michael Baxter had not acted negligently and could not be held responsible just for growing a GM crop in a conventional way. It also awarded Mr Baxter costs.

Today’s decision means Mr Marsh has no further avenue of appeal.


19 January 2016 – Source: ABC Rural

West Australian scientists say escape of genetically modified herbicide-resistant seeds into native bushland and roadsides can occur, but it is an easily manageable situation.

Publishing in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, the University of Western Australia’s Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative’s Professor Stephen Powles and Dr Roberto Busi studied populations of escaped seeds.

The seeds were in two areas of native bushland where GM canola had blown from in-paddock windrows, and on a roadside where seed had spilt from a truck near a grain receival site in Perth’s eastern suburbs…

In one area of native bushland near the Quairading crop, Professor Powles said GM canola completely failed to establish beyond the first generation…

In a different area, the seeds did establish, but became extinct after three years.

On roadsides, where it is common for landowners and councils to use glyphosate to control weeds, the GM canola had a better chance of establishing because competition from other plants was eliminated.

But Professor Powles said controlling the canola was simply a matter of mixing alternative herbicides together…

The study was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.


05 January 2016 – Source: Farm Weekly

Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale says his party is considering a policy change on genetically modified crops.

Despite genetically modified (GM) crops being grown across much of the country, the Greens hold a long-standing policy position opposing GM crop production that cites the precautionary principle amid fears about potential impacts on human health and the environment…

However, Senator Di Natale said he had no personal objection to the science of genetically modified crops and his party was considering a potential policy change on the controversial farm technology.

He said the Greens’ goal to expand its voter base to 20 per cent within a decade also involved connecting more with rural and regional communities where they’ve experienced recent success through hard-nosed policies on land use and mining.


FDA approves GM salmon
Source: The Wall Street Journal – 19 November 2015
Federal regulators approved the production and commercial sale of a strain of salmon whose DNA has been altered to make it grow faster, marking the first U.S. approval for a genetically modified animal raised for human consumption. The go-ahead for the AquAdvantage salmon, announced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, is a milestone for agricultural biotechnology, though it is far from guaranteed that the product will become widely available. Its developer must now woo retailers and consumers, some of whom are growing increasingly wary of genetically engineered food…


Source: Farm Weekly (WA) – 13 November 2015.

Legislation to repeal the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act is due to be tabled in the WA parliament.

Sources close to the case said they expected the repeal Bill could be tabled this week in State parliament having passed through cabinet this week but may not be debated until next February.

The repeal Bill could also be moved as part of an omnibus repeal Bill that may be tabled next week, aimed at cutting government red tape to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

WA Food and Agriculture Minister Ken Baston declined to comment on cabinet discussions to Fairfax Agricultural Media but said the WA government was committed to repealing the Act.



26 October 2015. Source: Genetic Literacy Project.

In sub-Saharan Africa, cassava is a staple. But the roots have a disadvantage: although rich in calories, they contain only few vitamins, especially Vitamin B6.

Vitamin B6 deficiency is prevalent in several African regions where cassava is the staple in people’s diet. Diseases of the cardiovascular and nervous systems are associated with vitamin B6 deficiency.

Plant scientists at ETH Zurich and the University of Geneva set out to find a way to increase vitamin B6 production in cassava.

In the journal Nature Biotechnology, the scientists present a new genetically modified cassava variety that produces several-fold higher levels of this important vitamin.

The basis for the new GM cassava was developed by Teresa Fitzpatrick at the University of Geneva. She discovered the biosynthesis of vitamin B6 in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. With the introduction of the corresponding genes into the cassava genome, the researchers produced several cassava lines that had increased vitamin B6.

Previously, the researchers had measured B6 content in several hundred different cassava varieties from Africa – none had a level as high as the genetically modified variety.

Vitamin B6 from the GM varieties is bioavailable, which means that humans can absorb it well and use it.

It is unclear when and how vitamin B6-enhanced cassava will find its way to farmers and consumers. The method for increasing vitamin B6 has not been patented because the gene construct and technology should be available freely to all interested parties.

“There are at least two obstacles: legislation for transgenic crops…and implementation of a cassava seed system to give all farmers access,” says Hervé Vanderschuren, who led the cassava research programme at ETH Zurich.


24 October 2015. Source: New York Times.

Call it the “Coalition of the Ignorant.” By the first week of October, 17 European countries — including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland — had used new European Union rules to announce bans on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

These prohibitions expose the worrying reality of how far Europe has gone in setting itself against modern science. True, the bans do not apply directly to scientific research, and a few countries — led by England — have declared themselves open to cultivation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But the chilling effect on biotech science in Europe will be dramatic: Why would anyone spend years developing genetically modified crops in the knowledge that they will most likely be outlawed by government fiat?

In effect, the Continent is shutting up shop for an entire field of human scientific and technological endeavor. …

This decision of a majority of European countries to apparently ignore their own experts may undermine any claim to the moral high ground at the coming Paris talks on climate change. The worldwide scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering is as solid as that which underpins human-caused global warming. Yet this inconvenient truth on GMOs — that they’re as safe as conventionally cultivated food — is ignored when ideological interests are threatened.

The scientific community is facing a new European reality…

Facing this hostile climate, the crop biotech sector in Europe is dying…

Meanwhile, hypocrisy rules: Europe imports over 30 million tons per year of corn and soy-based animal feeds, the vast majority of which are genetically modified, for its livestock industry. Imports are preferred to European crops partly because biotech traits make them cheaper. Yet these same traits — such as herbicide tolerance and insect resistance — are now widely barred from domestic use.

In essence, Europe has chosen chemistry over biology: It will not be able to reduce fungicide applications by adopting genetically modified blight-resistant potatoes; nor can it cut down on insecticide sprays, since it won’t allow genetically modified insect-resistant crops to be grown. The data is clear: One study found that GMO cultivation has led to a 40 percent reduction in insecticide spraying worldwide.

Shielded from the winds of change behind a $50 billion wall of subsidies thanks to the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, farmers in Europe can, arguably, afford to lose their competitive edge…




27 October 2015. Source: Daily Mail (Australia).

Supercharged GM tomatoes packed with industrial quantities of disease-fighting plant chemicals could soon be on the menu. Just one of the genetically engineered tomatoes grown by British scientists contains as much of the grape compound resveratrol as 50 bottles of red wine.

The antioxidant chemical is said to combat heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, although these claims are controversial.

The molecule, resveratrol, belongs to a well known group of plant compounds found in red wine, fruit and vegetables and olive oil. These polyphenols are famed for their antioxidant properties…

Professor Cathie Martin, from, the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said: ‘Our study provides a general tool for producing valuable phenylpropanoid compounds on an industrial scale in plants, and potentially production of other products derived from aromatic amino acids.

“Our work will be of interest to different research areas including fundamental research on plants, plant/microbe engineering, medicinal plant natural products, as well as diet and health research.”


29 September 2015. Source: Genetic Literacy Project

Next-generation biotechnologies like CRISPR-Cas9, RNAi and cis-gene are being introduced with much fanfare as newer, better ways to more more precisely produce genetically engineered variants for crops, medicine, biofuels and other uses. But the opposition has already begun to mount.

Many anti-GMO activists are attempting to lump these technologies into the same bin as less precise prior genetic innovations, including transgenics, and they persist in in attempting to use the stigmatizing term “GMO” in describing them because of its power to demonize.

…public acceptance isn’t about just the science and new technology; it’s also about addressing fears, benefits and the mental connections people make with certain scientific advances. It is, in short, about marketing and persuasion.

Science, particularly the science of food, hasn’t historically done well in this area. They’ve tended to avoid the business of sales and persuasion, even though the modern concept of marketing probably got its start in agribusiness and food. But a look back at how scientists, companies making science-based products, and public interest groups have handled public perceptions of their new inventions could help find more effective ways to gain acceptance of this latest “magic bullet.”



29 September 2015. Source: Queensland Country Life

GRAIN Producers SA is launching a petition today to support lifting the moratorium on growing genetically modified (GM) crops in South Australia.

The petition – the first under the new advocacy structure in South Australia – will be launched by GPSA at its Grower Day at the Yorke Peninsula Field Days.

The cultivation of GM food crops is prohibited in SA under the Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designation of Areas) Regulations 2008, which were made under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004.

According to the State government, these regulations will remain in place until at least September 1, 2019.

In a statement, GPSA chief executive officer Darren Arney said the petition highlights producers’ need for freedom of choice on variety selection.


18 September 2015. Source ABC PM

MARK COLVIN: A meeting of hundreds of the world’s most eminent experts on grain crops has heard arguments for the likely necessity of genetically modified crops. The consensus among the scientists is that current crop yields are not enough to keep up with global population growth and climate change.

David Claughton reports.

DAVID CLAUGHTON: Global wheat production is 700 million tonnes, but researchers say that needs to reach a billion tonnes to feed the world’s population by 2050.

MAN: Things are getting warmer and drier and inevitably there are going to be new disease problems that occur.

MAN 2: In wheat if there is one degree rise in temperature you can almost expect 10 degrees production in yield.

DAVID CLAUGHTON: Sanjaya Rajaram, winner of the World Food Prize, says GM technology is needed to feed the world into the future. A wheat scientist in India and Mexico, he has bred 480 wheat varieties and is regarded as the world’s greatest wheat breeder. He told the ABC’s Country Hour, conventional hybrid breeding could increase production by 20 to 25 per cent, but that won’t be enough to leave genetic modification out of the mix.




03 September 2015. Source: The Land

WA organic farmer Steve Marsh has lost his Supreme Court appeal for compensation after genetically modified (GM) canola was found on his Kojonup property in 2010.

A decision on the appeal of the Marsh v Baxter case outcome was made today in the Supreme Court of WA Court of Appeal.

Mr Marsh lodged the appeal against a Supreme Court decision which ruled his neighbour Michael Baxter was not responsible for acting negligently in his traditional method of growing the genetically modified (GM) canola crop.

Mr Marsh was suing his neighbour for $85,000 in alleged damages after the organic certification of 70 per cent of his property was suspended in late 2010 when GM canola swathes were found in his crop.