Latest Biotech News


08 July 2016. Source: The Conversation

Genetically modified crops are safe for human consumption and have the potential to feed the world and improve human health, scientists have been telling us for years.

On June 30, 110 Nobel laureates from around the world signed a letter demanding that the environmental pressure group Greenpeace stop its campaign against GM crops. How many people must die before we consider this a “crime against humanity”? the letter asks…

The eminent scientists appear to have learned little about opposition to GM crops over the last 20 years. Social science research suggests they are misinformed and their approach is misguided. Opposition to GM crops is not always based exclusively on scientific risks and benefits and neither is it grounded in emotion or dogma. To characterise opposition in this way only serves to inflame the relations between proponents and opponents. It is therefore unlikely to help us realise the potential of GM crops in feeding the world.


06 July 2016. Source: The Land

…The NXT [Nick Xenophon Team]’s crop biotech policy says farmers and consumers should have the right to say no to GM while demanding government play a continued role supporting research into long-term effects on human and plant health.

However, SA farmers want the State government to move beyond political posturing and fear campaigns to support widespread scientific understanding about the safety of Genetically Modified crops like canola and end its moratorium on commercial production. They want farmers to access crop biotechnology; especially given federal regulators have long-approved products like GM canola as being safe to human health and the environment.

Federally, Labor and the Coalition both support GM crops as does the NFF while the Greens continue to apply a precautionary principle, despite leader Richard Di Natale admitting that, as a former doctor, he supports the science of genetic modification.


07 July 2016. Source: Farm Weekly (WA)

The Labor Party will “transition away” from allowing GM crops to be grown in WA if it wins the 2017 State election.

Following the passing of the 2015 Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill through the lower house of Parliament last week, Shadow Agriculture Minister Mick Murray and Agricultural Region MLC Darren West clarified Labor’s position on GM crops. Mr West said the government had failed to address issues about contamination following the Marsh vs Baxter case as well as community concerns on glyphosate resistance, correct labelling of GM crops and the overall safety of GM foods.


07 July 2016. Source: Farm Weekly (WA)

The 2015 Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill is one step closer to passing, with the WA Legislative Council voting on the legislation last week. The bill passed 18 votes to 9…

If the bill passes the parliament, the decision to grow GM crops in WA will revert to the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), which is responsible for administering permits to grow GM crops in Australia.


Source: ABC Rural. 29 June 2016

The Labor Party in Western Australia is reconsidering its long-held policy position to transition WA out of genetically modified (GM) crops if it wins power at the state election in March.

In a major backflip, Labor’s Shadow Agriculture Minister Mick Murray said it was time for the party to be practical about the future of GM technology in WA, and look at ways for GM and non-GM crops to co-exist, rather than becoming GM-free.

“We have a policy position as anti-GM. We understand now that with GM canola already out there, you just can’t turn the switch off,” Mr Murray said.

The comments follow Tuesday’s passage of the GM Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill through the upper house of State Parliament.

The bill now has to make its way through the lower house, which should occur when Parliament resumes after the winter break.

According to both sides of government, the passage of the bill now seems a fait accompli….


21 June 2016. Source: ABC Rural.

A science communicator has blamed decisions made two decades ago for why consumers have been slow to accept genetically modified foods.

Consultant Dr Craig Cormick said GM was pitched too heavily at farmers and companies, rather than consumers when it was first marketed 20 years ago.

He said while the majority of Australians neither supported nor rejected GM foods, with the debate largely happening at polar ends of the spectrum.

“About 15 per cent are at either end, we call them the ‘polar bears’, who say they either ‘never ever eat GM food’ or ‘GM is fine, there’s nothing wrong with it’

“The rest, 60 to 70 per cent of the public we call the penguins because they move around a bit depending on the issue or the topic, tend to say ‘it’s OK if you prove it’s safe,’ or ‘OK if you prove it’s regulated’.”


15 June 2016. Source: Media release, ATSE

Numerous, credible scientific reports about the safety of new food technologies, such as genetic engineering, will not see the technology embraced because scientific evidence does not necessarily change attitudes.

This is the message of Dr Craig Cormick, a leading science communicator who will be addressing community attitudes to new food technologies at the 2016 ATSE National Technology Challenges Dialogue: Agribusiness 2030 being held on 15 and 16 June in Sydney. It will bring together Australia’s top agriculture and agribusiness leaders and innovators from research, industry and government including Professor Alan Finkel AO FAA FTSE – Australian Chief Scientist, Ms Alison Watkins – Group Managing Director of Coca-Cola Amatil and Dr John Manners – Director of CSIRO Agriculture.

“Arguing about the validity of the science behind new food technologies is about as effective in changing attitudes as taunting and name calling,” said Craig, who has faced plenty of taunting and name calling as his academic and professional careers have centred on public acceptance of contentious science and technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology.

“Attitudes that were not formed by logic and facts are not influenced by logic and facts.” He explained that when presented with information that is complex, people tend to make emotionally-based judgements, driven by values or worldviews, and any information that doesn’t align with their values or worldviews tends to be rejected or dismissed.

“Scientific evidence has very little impact on anyone who already holds a strong belief that a technology, such as biotechnology, is not safe,” he said.

“Social research shows that tendencies towards conspiracy theories are strong predictors for anti- GM positions.

“Studies have shown that worldviews and beliefs, rather than age, gender, or other standard demographics, are better predictors of people’s attitudes to GM foods, climate change, vaccination, fluoridation or to science and technology (S&T) in general.

“We can see this played out in the seemingly contradictory positions of some members of the community. For instance, people with strong values on the sanctity of nature demand we respect the science on climate change, but then advocate we reject the science on genetically-modified crops. Meanwhile people with strongly pro-development values tend to demand we respect the science on GM crops, but advocate that we reject the science on climate change.

“People, however, are receptive to messages that align with their values. If you can identify people’s values and then frame a message to align with those values, you have a much higher chance of not having your message rejected out of hand,” he said….



Economic report signals end for GM barriers

The Land – 06 June 2016

RESULTS of a new economic report, showing Genetically Modified crops have increased farmer incomes by $1.37 billion in Australia since 1996 while drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reinforces why unnecessary State-based moratoria should end, supporters say.

An independent report released today by Graham Brookes of UK-based PG Economics says in the past 20-years, Australian cotton and canola farmers have gained $1.37b worth of extra income and produced an additional 226,000 tonnes of canola that would otherwise have not been produced, if conventional technology was used.

It also said GM crop technology has enabled Australian farmers to reduce their use of insecticides and herbicides by 22 million kilograms of active ingredient, equal to a 26 per cent improvement in the environmental impact associated with pesticide use on the two crops.

“This reduced use of pesticides has also resulted in a saving of nearly 27 million litres of fuel use and 71.5 million kilograms less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere,” it said.


Statement of Principles: Regulatory oversight of new breeding techniques

Source: ABCA

May 2016.

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) recognises the importance of new techniques in plant and animal breeding. In most cases, new breeding techniques (NBTs) are innovative improvements and refinements of traditional plant and animal breeding methods.

Now breeders can induce very specific changes in plant and animal genes in a way that mimics the changes that occur in nature or through traditional breeding methods. Using NBTs can enable breeders to create the same, desired genetic variation with greater precision and efficiency than previous breeding methods.

Genomic changes produced by NBTs should be viewed in light of the inherent natural variability of plant and animal genomes, the comparable genomic changes that occur with the use of traditional breeding methods, and the long safe history of use of traditional breeding methods.

Regulatory oversight of products developed through NBTs, if needed, should be based on sound scientific principles and proportionate to risk.

Regulatory oversight that is not commensurate with risk is non value adding and results in delay and higher costs, which limit the access of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and public breeding institutions to the latest innovative breeding tools.

Plant and animal breeders need regulatory certainty so they can reliably plan their breeding programs, product development and market strategies.

Consistent regulatory oversight of products developed using NBTs would facilitate innovation and allow the uptake of advanced, innovative breeding applications by both private and public sector breeders.

Lack of clarity in regulatory oversight of products developed using NBTs hinders innovation and the economic benefits this could bring to Australian agriculture.


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.