Latest Biotech News


AUS - POOR COMMUNICATION TO BLAME FOR SLOW UPTAKE OF GM FOOD

21 June 2016. Source: ABC Rural.

www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-21/converting-consumers-to-gm-technology/7529184

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’.”


AUS - NEW TECHNOLOGY UPTAKE: ABOUT ATTITUDE NOT SCIENCE

15 June 2016. Source: Media release, ATSE

http://www.atse.org.au/content/publications/media-releases/2016/embracing-new-technology-is-about-attitudes-not-science.aspx

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….

 


AUS - 20 YEARS OF GM CROPS

Economic report signals end for GM barriers

The Land – 06 June 2016

www.theland.com.au/story/3949686/economic-report-signals-end-for-gm-barriers/?cs=4956

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.


AUS - REGULATORY OVERSIGHT OF NEW BREEDING TECHNIQUES

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.


AUS - WA GOVT STARTS GM LAW REPEAL DEBATE

11 May 2016. Source: ABC Rural – www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-11/gm-repeal-debate-begins/7405986

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…


AUS - EU DEMAND FOR GM CANOLA GROWING

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.


INT - LATEST GM CROP FIGURES RELEASED

April 2016. Source: Media release, ISAAA. www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/51/default.asp

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.

 


AUS - ORGANIC FARMER LOSES HIGH COURT BID

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.


AUS - GM CANOLA UNLIKELY TO BE INVASIVE

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.


AUS - GREENS TO RETHINK GM POLICY

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.


USA - GM SALMON APPROVED

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…


AUS - WA’S GM CROPS FREE ACT SET TO BE REPEALED

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.

 


SWITZERLAND – VITAMIN-ENHANCED GM CASSAVA

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.


EU – GMO POLICIES TURN EUROPE AGAINST SCIENCE

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…

 

 


UK – GM TOMATOES LOADED WITH ANTI-OXIDANTS

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

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3290315/Researchers-grow-SUPERTOMATOES-containing-cancer-beating-chemical-50-glasses-red-wine.html

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.”