Quarterly Update – Edition 1
- Council activity
- In the pipeline
- Key issues
- Messages from ABCA’s co-patrons
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia was established by AusBiotech Ltd, CropLife Australia, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) in September 2012.
As well as the four founding organisations, ABCA’s members are:
- Ag Institute of Australia
- Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF)
- Australian Seed Federation (ASF)
- Cotton Australia
- Grain Trade Australia (GTA)
- Science and Technology Australia (STA)
To read more about these organisations, and to view their policy positions on biotechnology, see: Council Members
The inaugural meeting of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) was held in December 2012. Council members discussed the challenges and opportunities for the Australian biotechnology sector.
In March 2013, ABCA met to discuss key issues affecting Australian agricultural biotechnology, including the current status of gene technology regulation in Australia; the effective use of social media; and, a proposed study to map the capacity and capability of the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector. Craig Cormick, Manager of Public Awareness and Communication, National Enabling Technology Strategy (NETS), within the Australian Government also presented the latest consumer perceptions of biotechnology research results to the Council.
TASMANIA’S GM MORATORIUM REVIEW
Tasmania’s moratorium on GMOs ends in November 2014 and a review of the State’s GMO status has commenced. On 25 June, the Primary Industries Minister Bryan Green announced the terms of reference for the review.
“The Government believes the GMO-free status of Tasmania should continue,” Minister Green said as part of the announcement.
According to a news article, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) chief executive Jan Davis said it was a good time to review the moratorium, with new evidence showing vast benefits in using some types of genetically modified crops.
“Tasmanian farmers operate in highly competitive commercial markets. With world demand for food increasing rapidly, they need to have access to a range of modern tools of trade including technologies such as GM…Farmers who wanted to remain GM-free should also be able to do so with confidence their crops would not be at risk of contamination from GM crops,” she said.
GM SALMON IN NORTH AMERICA: REGULATORY UPDATE
In February, the US Food and Drug Administration announced that it had extended the public comment period for the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and preliminary “finding of no significant [environmental] impact” in regards to a fast-growing GM salmon developed by AquaBounty Technologies.
This extended comment period has now concluded and a decision regarding the commercial approval of the GM salmon is now pending. This decision is significant as, if approved, the GM salmon will be the first GM livestock to be approved for human consumption anywhere in the world.
GENE TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENTS IN HORTICULTURE
Two horticultural products are also significantly advanced in the regulatory approval pipeline in North America.
Arctic® apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits in Canada have been modified to be non-browning when cut or bruised. Scientists use gene technology to “turn off” the genes that make apples brown. The regulatory approval process is expected to conclude this year in the USA and next year in Canada, with the developers hoping to sell small quantities of the fruit in 2014/15 and significant quantities in 2016.
Using gene technology, Simplot has developed a potato with multiple new characteristics. The Innate™ potato has reduced black spot from bruising which will result in a larger usable yield; it has reduced sugar levels – which under certain conditions – provide consistent golden color, providing ideal taste and texture qualities; and, finally, it has reduced levels of asparagine which decreases the potential formation of acrylamide, a chemical compound linked to cancer that occurs when potatoes, wheat, coffee, and other foods are cooked at high temperatures. The regulatory process for the commercial approval of the GM potato started in January 2013, with Simplot hoping for approvals in 2014. Simplot are also pursuing regulatory approval in foreign export markets in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Japan.
CROPLIFE INTERNATIONAL – GM CROPS IN THE PIPELINE
CropLife International has released updated plant biotechnology pipeline information, which outlines both early development research and advanced developments which could be in the marketplace within five to seven years. Products to note nearing the market include drought tolerant corn, soybeans with modified fat profiles, Vitamin A enriched rice (Golden Rice), virus resistant eggplant and reduced lignin lucerne.
- Plant biotechnology pipeline: www.croplife.org
ANIMAL FEED SAFETY QUESTIONED
In June 2013, a long-awaited animal feeding study was published in the Journal of Organic Systems. The study looked at the health of 168 pigs fed a “typical diet” containing soy and corn over a period of about 23 weeks. Half of the pigs were fed widely-used varieties of GM soy and GM corn and the other half of the pigs were fed an equivalent non-GM diet. According to the researchers, “the level of severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigs fed the GM diet. Pigs on the GM diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs.” These results contradict more than 150 scientific studies conducted to evaluate the safety of animals fed GM crops. To date, there has been no credible scientific evidence to suggest any detrimental impact on the animals or on the products – that is the meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed GM crops. Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), and Australia’s gene technology regulatory agency, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) have considered the findings and released statements. The key points made by FSANZ are:
- The authors have not provided convincing evidence that stomach inflammation was present. The stomach data, as presented, do not support the authors’ interpretation and conclusions because:
- The authors have not proved that the statistically significant increase in uterine weight is attributable to the GM diet.
- There are many deficiencies with the design, conduct and reporting of the study. More detailed comment on these deficiencies is available. These deficiencies are sufficient to invalidate the study conclusions.
- Overall, the data presented in the paper are not convincing of adverse effects due to the GM diet and provide no grounds for revising FSANZ’s conclusions about the safety of previously approved glyphosate-tolerant and insect-protected GM corn lines and glyphosate-tolerant GM soy lines.
The OGTR reaches similar conclusions about the study and states, “There are many problems with the study design, execution, data analysis and reporting that severely limit its value…The information presented does not support the authors’ claims of a link between GM feed and stomach inflammation… Similarly, there is no basis for attributing differences in mean uterine weight to diet…Thus the data do not support the authors’ claims, and the publication does not bring into question previous regulatory assessments or approvals.” Further information:
- The journal article: A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM corn maize diet
- FSANZ’s response to the animal feeding study’s findings
- The OGTR response to the study
- ABCA Information Paper 4, Animal feed and GM crops
NON-APPROVED GM WHEAT IN THE USA
In May, an Oregon State University scientist notified the US Department of Agriculture authorities that some plant samples found in a field were GM herbicide tolerant wheat volunteers. The GM variety has been confirmed as the glyphosate herbicide tolerant variety (MON71800) that Monsanto was authorised to field trial in the USA from 1998 to 2005. The last field trials of the GM wheat in Oregon occurred in 2001, and there were no field trials on the farm where the GM wheat was found. No GM wheat varieties are approved for sale or commercial production in the USA, Australia or anywhere else in the world. An investigation is underway to determine how this happened. According to a US Government statement, “[The] USDA has neither found nor been informed of anything that would indicate that this incident amounts to more than a single isolated incident in a single field on a single farm. All information collected so far shows no indication of the presence of GE wheat in commerce. Investigators are conducting a thorough review.” The GM wheat is not a food safety issue as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assessed this variety of GM wheat in 2004 and determined that this variety is as safe for food and animal feed as non-GM wheat currently on the market. Major markets, such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan, were disrupted as imports of US white wheat were suspended, however trading has now resumed following discussions with US officials. Australia’s Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) issued a media release regarding the GM wheat find in the USA. It states in part, “There is no evidence to suggest that this GM wheat has been imported into Australia. The OGTR provides strict oversight of GM crop trials in Australia. The Gene Technology Regulator has issued 14 licences for limited and controlled field trials of GM wheat, and 11 of these licences are still current. Each trial is limited in size and duration and there has been no breach of containment for any GM wheat trials.” Further information:
GM FOOD SAFETY ASSESSMENT PROCESS QUESTIONED (RNAi)
A study published in the journal Environment International in May 2013 claims food safety regulators are allowing potentially dangerous GM foods into the global food supply. In particular, the study examined the approach food regulators use in assessing foods modified to produce double stranded RNA, that is often used to switch off other genes, and it concluded that, “regulatory bodies are not adequately assessing the risks of dsRNA-producing GM products”. In response to the claims, Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), stated, “FSANZ has carefully examined the arguments put forward in the article, and has thoroughly researched the scientific literature on gene silencing. The weight of scientific evidence published to date does not support the view that small dsRNAs in foods are likely to have adverse consequences for humans.” Further information:
- The journal article, A comparative evaluation of the regulation of GM crops or products containing dsRNA and suggested improvements to risk assessments
- Scientist responses can be found at:
- FSANZ’s response
GM CORN STUDY DISCREDITED
In September 2012, French university scientists led by Gilles-Eric Seralini published research results in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal claiming that rats fed a particular GM corn variety experienced negative health effects. Specifically, the researchers claimed that rats fed a diet supplemented with either the herbicide Roundup or a GM corn tolerant to Roundup had a reduced lifespan and a higher incidence of tumours. The study has been widely discredited by the global science community and regulatory authorities in Australia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and France. Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, released a statement about the study which states in part, “The relevance of the reported findings and conclusions drawn is limited because of a number of methodological and interpretive limitations. Key limitations include the small number of animals in each test group, selective reporting of data, and no acknowledgement of the well-known spontaneous occurrence of mammary tumours in this strain of female rats. The claimed toxicity of Roundup is implausible and doesn’t align with extensive data from well designed and conducted long-term studies… On the basis of the many scientific deficiencies identified in the study, FSANZ does not accept the conclusions made by the authors and has therefore found no justification to reconsider the safety of [the GM] corn, originally approved in 2002.” Further information:
- The journal article, Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize
- Monsanto’s response
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
- FSANZ’s response
GM CANOLA LEGAL CASE IN WA
The Western Australian Supreme Court has rejected an injunction seeking to prevent Michael Baxter from planting GM canola on his property. Mr Baxter’s neighbour Steve Marsh had sought the injunction to prevent Mr Baxter planting GM canola this season within 400 metres of his organic farm. In a published statement, Supreme Court Judge Kenneth Martin said the defendant, Mr Baxter, was seeking to lawfully grow GM canola for legitimate reasons on his farm, including countering longer-term weed problems. The injunction proceedings form part broader legal proceeding launched in April 2012, with Mr Marsh suing his neighbour for alleged economic losses sustained after GM canola was discovered on his farm in 2010. The presence of GM canola led to the loss of Mr Marsh’s organic certification status with the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA). The trial for this case is expected to begin in early 2014. In a media report, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s Western Grain Growers chairman John Snooke welcomed the Court’s judgment. Mr Snooke reportedly said Mr Baxter had grown “a safe, legal and approved crop” and that Mr Marsh’s problems had resulted from NASAA’s “overly tight standards” with its zero tolerance to GM crops “impossible to comply with in the real world” resulting in the organic de-certification. Further information:
MONSANTO WILL NO LONGER PURSUE GM IN EUROPE Monsanto has announced that it will no longer pursue approvals for the cultivation of new GM crops in Europe, but it will continue to focus on enabling imports of approved GM crops into the EU (a huge importer of GM grains). Monsanto’s business in Europe is almost entirely conventional seeds. Monsanto will be investing several hundred million dollars in Europe over a decade to expand conventional seed production and breeding. For further information:
Hon. John Anderson AO
“I am both delighted and honoured to have been asked to serve as one of the inaugural co-patrons of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia. I have a deep personal commitment to farming and food production, to global food security, and to a good future for Australian farmers.
Embracing agricultural biotechnology research and the adoption of GM crops seems to me an economic, environmental and human health must.
I commend [the] founding members of the Council for their foresight and commitment in establishing this important organisation.”
Prof. Adrienne Clarke AC
“I am honoured to accept the role as patron of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia. The Council has formed at a particularly critical time in our history. We are facing enormous challenges.
The work of ABCA is really important. Firstly, it can bring together the people who are involved – the farmers, the scientists, the government and the product developers. Secondly, the Council can keep the public informed about what technologies are available, what’s in the pipeline, what are the risks, and what are the rewards and opportunities in the future.
So I am very much looking forward to seeing the Council contribute to the debate, and contribute to guiding the technologies of the future.”
NEW WEBSITE LAUNCHED
A new website called GMO Answers has been launched by the US-based Council for Biotechnology Information. The website initiative will answer the questions people have about biotechnology in food and agriculture. Anyone can log into the site and ask questions about GMOs and answers will be provided by independent experts – scientists, academics, farmers and other authoritative sources.
US COURT DECISION ON DNA PATENTS
The United States’ highest court, the Supreme Court, has ruled that a naturally occurring deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated.
While the decision has implications for current (and would-be) owners of US patents concerning isolated genetic material (regardless of whether the material has been isolated from a human, animal, plant or other living organism), it does not affect the patentability of such material in Australia.
- Legal interpretation from Russell Kennedy, Implications of US Supreme Court’s ruling in Myriad for plant gene technology.
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT – COMMUNITY PERCEPTIONS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY
The Commonwealth Government has been monitoring consumer perceptions about biotechnology in Australia on a bi-annual basis since 1999, and the latest survey results from 2012 have now been released.
- Community Attitudes Towards Emerging Technology Issues – Biotechnology. Report of Findings. January 2013.
- Where does the community sit on biotechnology? YouTube presentation of the results.
PG ECONOMICS – GM CROP IMPACTS
In April, UK-based PG Economics released its annual report on the environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM crops around the world.
ISAAA – LATEST GLOBAL GM CROP STATISTICS
The 2012 statistics regarding the global use of GM crops were released in February and show a six per cent increase in usage from 2011, with the global area now exceeding 170 million hectares across 28 countries.
MARK LYNAS’ PRESENTATIONS
Mark Lynas, an author, environmentalist and former member of an anti-GM movement group, confronts anti-GM groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth about their stance on biotechnology and the lack of evidence to support their claims.
- Time to Call Out the Anti-GMO Conspiracy Theory, 29 April 2013. Cornell University.
- Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013. Oxford University.
- GMO pigs study: more junk science, 12 June 2013.
JOURNAL ARTICLE – GM CROPS AND FOOD SECURITY
This article focuses on how growing GM crops may influence smallholders farmers’ income and thus their economic access to food and provides the first ex post analysis of food security impacts of GM crops at the micro level. Data was collected over several years from farm households in India, where insect-resistant GM cotton has been widely adopted. According to the paper, “Controlling for other factors, the adoption of GM cotton has significantly improved calorie consumption and dietary quality, resulting from increased family incomes. This technology has reduced food insecurity by 15 – 20 per cent among cotton-producing households. GM crops alone will not solve the hunger problem, but they can be an important component in a broader food security strategy.”
JOURNAL ARTICLE – GM FIELD PEA RESEARCH UPDATE
In 2005, CSIRO scientists discontinued research into a GM field pea resistant to the pea weevil after feeding trials showed negative immune responses in mice. The CSIRO researchers believed that the protein behaved differently in the GM peas than it did naturally-occurring in beans, and that this was the reason it triggered an immune response in mice. Recently, new international research funded by the European Commission, undertaken at the Medical University of Vienna, found only minor differences in the immune response of mice fed several varieties of beans, non-GM peas and the GM peas. The mice showed similar levels of immune response no matter which food they consumed. The researchers concluded that the immune response in mice was the same no matter whether the inhibitor came from beans, where it naturally occurs, or from peas genetically modified to express the inhibitor.
- The journal article: Genetically Modified α-Amylase Inhibitor Peas Are Not Specifically Allergenic in Mice.
- For CSIRO research background.
JOURNAL ARTICLE – GM CROP SAFETY ANALYSIS – TIME FOR A RE-THINK?
According to a paper published in February 2013 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, it may be time to re-think the use of compositional equivalence studies required of GM crop developers by regulatory regimes globally because unintended compositional effects that could be caused by genetic modification have not materialised. Following a review of 20 years of literature on the subject, the authors argue that compositional equivalence studies uniquely required for GM crops may no longer be justified on the basis of scientific uncertainty.
Disclaimer: The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia Limited (ABCA) gives no warranty and makes no representation that the information contained in these sections is suitable for any purpose or is free from error. ABCA accepts no responsibility for any person acting or relying upon the information contained in these sections, and disclaims all liability.