Quarterly Update – Edition 15
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Welcome to the latest update from the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA).
This year has been noteworthy for the ongoing reviews of gene technology regulations in Australia. As such, we look forward to the conclusion of the 2016 Technical Review of the Gene Technology Regulations, and the 2017 Review of the National Gene Technology Scheme in 2018, and the increased certainty and clarity the conclusion of these reviews will bring for those operating in agricultural biotechnology research and development.
It is also important to highlight key developments in North America this year regarding the commercial release of fast-growing GM salmon, the first GM animal to be approved for the dinner plate, and the GM non-browning apple, the first horticultural product to arrive on the supermarket shelves for several years. Both products are now available to North American consumers. The GM apple was developed using CSIRO’s gene silencing technology, and it is worth reflecting on the world-leading research we have in Australia, and the regulatory hurdles which remain in place for bringing these developments to market.
Locally, we would again like to highlight the work of Professor James Dale from Queensland’s University of Technology and his research team. In the last update, we reported on their biofortified banana project which aims to improve the nutritional content of bananas in Uganda. Topping off their busy year, the banana researchers have also announced promising field trial results regarding GM Cavendish bananas resistant to the devastating soil-borne fungus Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4), also known as Panama disease. TR4 can remain in the soil for more than 40 years and threatens to devastate the US$12 billion Cavendish global export market.
In what promises to be an exciting development for the industry next year, commercial licence applications for GM omega-3 canola and a GM safflower with a modified oil profile for industrial use are currently before the Gene Technology Regulator. Most Australian farmers, excluding those in South Australia and Tasmania, can look forward to learning more about, and potentially accessing, these two new commodities soon.
The year ended with an extension to the GM crop moratorium in South Australia until 2025, and the launch of a Parliamentary Inquiry into a compensation scheme for organic farmers in Western Australia, so there remains much work to be done to allow Australian farmers unfettered access to a technology that more than 18 million farmers are utilising safely in 28 countries around the world.
ABCA will continue to work to pursue recognition of the current and potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology by providing quality, factual, science-based information about gene technology in agriculture.
Finally, on behalf of ABCA, I would like to wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a safe, happy and prosperous 2018.
ABCA provides a weekly summary of biotechnology news developments for subscribers. Contact ABCA to be added to the distribution list.
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SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S GM CROP BAN EXTENDED UNTIL 2025
South Australia’s genetically modified crop ban has been extended until 2025 after a bill put forward by the Greens passed the Upper House by a single vote on 15 November, and then passed the Lower House less than two weeks later. The current ban, due to expire on 01 September 2019 was to be debated next year, but the Greens motion has seen it extended for another six years.
Grain Producers SA Chairman and Parilla farmer Wade Dabinett said it is an “unmitigated disaster”, not just for the grains industry but the whole state. “We have had a moratorium in place, which has seen us be put a decade behind the other states and … I am flabbergasted that we have a policy in place when there has been no public consultation.”
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) also expressed dismay following the move to extend the GM crop moratorium. NFF President Fiona Simson said the move would, without a doubt, curtail the fortunes of the State’s grain growers.
“Growers in all other grain producing states are successfully growing GM canola and benefiting from the herbicide resistance, increased drought tolerance and enhanced yields that GM technology delivers.”
“Frustratingly, the decision is at odds with established science and economic modelling and was made, unbelievably, without any consultation with the farm sector,” Ms Simson said.
South Australian farmers will continue to be shackled by narrow, misguided, anti-science party politics said Mr Matthew Cossey, CropLife Australia, Chief Executive Officer.
“Independent market analysis undertaken by Mecardo in 2016 and 2017 clearly shows that there is little evidence that South Australian farmers achieve a premium for its non-GM canola crop due to a ban on the cultivation of GM crops.”
“This extension places South Australian farmers at a considerable disadvantage on an ideological fancy of a Premier who neglects regional areas of the State because, in his own disgusting words, there aren’t a lot of votes for him,” said Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources and Senator for South Australia Anne Ruston.
“It further threatens South Australia’s agricultural research sector. Research dollars will bypass SA, seeking more open-minded states which don’t play politic games with the livelihoods of farming families.
WA PARLIAMENTARY ENQUIRY INTO COMPENSATION FOR GM FREE FARMERS
A petition to “introduce farmer protection legislation to compensate any non-GM farmer who suffers economic loss from GM contamination” prepared by anti-GM group FOODWatch and tabled by WA’s upper house Greens member Diane Evers in June 2017, will now be subject to a Parliamentary Inquiry by the Standing Committee on Environmental and Public Affairs.
In her response to the Chair of the Standing Committee on Environmental and Public Affairs, the WA Agriculture and Food Minister, Alannah MacTiernan, said:
“I support the Committee investigating whether there needs to be a mechanism to protect non-GM farmers from contamination. In particular, there needs to be an examination of whether current laws of tort are adequate or whether strict liability for cross contamination should apply as it does in European Union Member States such as Austria, Denmark and France.”
Farmer group representatives interviewed by the ABC included Duncan Young from WA Farmers, and he said he believed the Federal Government’s 2005 review into GM gene technology addressed the issue of liability.
“It is already covered under common law so why do we need to change something,” Mr Young said.
“You have also got to remember that GM canola is a legal and safe crop, so why are we making that an example?
“I am still wondering what the ulterior motives are here,” Mr Young said.
Chair of the Pastoralist and Graziers grains committee Gary McGill said farmers were used to sorting out problems between neighbours informally.
He believed the inquiry was designed to make farmers feel nervous about growing GM canola.
“Go ahead and make my day is what I say, because we know that we would welcome an opportunity for this to be taken to the courts. We are also going to welcome the opportunity for this review.”
Public submissions to the Environment and Public Affairs Committee are open until until 16 February 2018.
- Petition NO 10 – Compensation for GM Free Farmers
GM OMEGA-3 CANOLA AND GM SAFFLOWER REACHING EXCITING PHASE
A licence for the commercial release of a GM canola with boosted omega-3 oil content (so-called DHA canola) in Australia is currently being sought from the Gene Technology Regulator.
The GM canola contains seven introduced genes involved in fatty acid biosynthesis. The genes are sourced from yeast and marine microalgae and encode enzymes that help the GM canola accumulate a high proportion of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Long chain fatty acids such as DHA, which are widely used as a human dietary supplement, are normally sourced from wild-caught fish oils and algal oils.
Nuseed, who developed the GM canola in partnership with CSIRO and GRDC, is seeking to commercially release the GM canola across Australia for use in both the food and feed chain.
Australia’s food regulator, Food Standard Australia and New Zealand is currently assessing Nuseed’s application to approve food derived from this GM canola and has completed a comprehensive safety assessment. The draft report, which is currently under public consultation, concluded that food derived from the GM canola was as safe as food derived from other commercial canola varieties.
While the commercial licence application is underway in Australia, trials are also occurring overseas. Norwegian research institute, Nofima, has performed feed trials on salmon in fresh water and in seawater facilities on land, where increasing amounts of omega-3 canola were added to the feed. A parallel trial has been carried out in warmer water in Australia, to test the omega-3 sources at different growth rates.
The salmon given feed containing oil from the GM crop were analysed for growth, composition and health and had the same fillet omega-3 levels as salmon fed with fish oil. Gene expression analyses showed that effects depended on the amount of oil, not the type of oil.
“Thorough analyses of these results have not shown any differences in health and growth between fish fed the two oils,” said Bente Ruyter, project manager at Nofima.
Preliminary trials and analyses of omega-3-rich oil from the GM canola variety indicate that it is safe to use in salmon feed.
Further, in October, Nufarm, which has been working on the omega-3 yielding canola for years, harvested its first crop at farms in the US state of Washington as part of agronomic trial and regulatory requirements in the USA and Canada.
According to the Nuseed website, the DHA rich omega-3 oil will be used as an ingredient in aquaculture feed and in human nutrition. The aquaculture product is branded Aquaterra™ and the human nutrition product is Nutriterra™. Both products will help meet the increasing demand for long-chain omega-3 oils in these high value markets. Nuseed is hoping to roll out these products by 2018 or 2019.
Victorian farmers are involved in field trials of a GM safflower, which could replace petroleum-based industrial oils. The oil produced by the GM safflower has high amounts of oleic acid – about 92 per cent. It is intended for industrial use, rather than food production. The GM safflower was developed by the CSIRO and licensed to GO Resources in 2015 for commercialisation. GO Resources have a licence from the Office of Gene Technology Regulator to run field trials of the new GM variety and have applied for a commercial release licence.
DISEASE-RESISTANT GM BANANA BREAKTHROUGH
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology are celebrating promising results in the fight against a devastating banana disease threatening the US$12 billion Cavendish global export market. The team, led by Distinguished Professor James Dale, have developed and grown GM Cavendish bananas resistant to the devastating soil-borne fungus Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4), also known as Panama disease. TR4 can remain in the soil for more than 40 years and there is no effective chemical control for it.
In the field trial conducted in heavily TR4-infested soil from 2012-2015, in the Northern Territory, one Cavendish line transformed with a gene taken from a wild banana remained completely TR4 free, while three others showed robust resistance. There was no difference in observed mature bunch size between the transgenic bananas and healthy control Cavendish.
The Cavendish Grand Nain variety was modified with the RGA2 gene, taken from the TR4-resistant wild, south-east Asian banana subspecies, Musa acuminate ssp malaccensis for the trial. Researchers found RGA2 gene activity level in the modified bananas was ‘strongly correlated’ with TR4 resistance. Cavendish bananas have been found to also have this RGA2 gene naturally, but it is not very active, so a new research avenue for the team is exploring the use of gene editing to ‘switch on’ the gene in Cavendish to make them TR4 resistant, and they are looking at more genes in the wild banana populations and screening them to identify other resistance genes, not only for resistance to TR4 but to other diseases.
These results have just been published in Nature Communications.
An expanded field trial, of up to 9000 plants, is now underway in the same NT location for a further five years.
COMMUNITY ATTITUDES TO GENE TECHNOLOGY
A survey of community attitudes to gene technology undertaken for the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) of more than 1200 people has found that overall, attitudes to GMOs have settled, mirroring very closely the results from the 2015 study, and not showing the degree of change seen between previous studies.
Those strongly opposed to GMOs are about 13 per cent of the population. Support for GMOs is more varied and cannot be given just one figure because it is so often conditional, based on regulation and safety being ensured, and the type of modification and its purpose. For example, there is a wide difference in support for GMOs in medical (63 per cent), industrial (55 per cent), environmental (54 per cent) and food and crops (38 per cent).
Segmenting the audience into four groups based on their support for GM foods, almost half the respondents were open to the production of GM food as long as regulations were in place to make sure it was safe. About a quarter were against the production of food this way until the science could prove it was safe.
Other key findings included:
- Knowledge about what foods in Australia were genetically modified is generally poor.
- As has repeatedly been shown in previous studies, people have different attitudes towards different genetic modifications, and there is more support for modifications that are perceived to be less radical.
- Awareness of whether GM crops were grown in a respondent’s state was generally not high, varying between 14% and 35% correctly stating whether or not GM crops were grown in their state.
- Those organisations thought to be regulators of GM were the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (40 per cent), CSIRO (36 per cent), the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (31 per cent), the Department of Health (31 per cent), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (30 per cent), state governments (28 per cent), the National Health and Medical Research Council (23 per cent), the Therapeutic Goods Administration (22 per cent), and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (16 per cent).
- Most respondents (71 per cent) felt that biotechnology would improve our way of life in the future, while only 46 per cent felt that GMOs would improve our way of life in the future.
- More than half the respondents (56 per cent) stated they were aware of gene editing and 57 per cent thought it might improve our way of life in the future, but 17 per cent thought it might make things worse. Gene editing received quite high acceptance (42 per cent) relative to other techniques.
AN UPDATE OF GENE TECHNOLOGY REGULATIONS TECHNICAL REVIEW
The Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator) is in the process of undertaking a technical review of the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 to provide clarity about whether organisms developed using a range of new technologies are subject to regulation as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and ensure that new technologies are regulated in a manner commensurate with the risks they pose.
Following initial consultations and submissions which began in 2016, The Regulator invited public comments on proposed amendments to the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 (the Regulations) on 30 November 2017. The amendment proposals are detailed in a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement and summarised in a Consultation Quick Guide available on the OGTR website.
The Regulator invites written submissions by 21 February 2018 on the amendment proposals and consultation questions in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement and accompanying Consultation Quick Guide. Submissions will be published on the OGTR website after the consultation period closes.
The changes proposed by the Regulator have been welcomed by the plant science industry. “Clarifying which of the plant breeding innovations are subject to interim regulation provides some level of certainty for researchers and industry and will enable innovative agricultural tools to be made available to Australia’s farmers in a more timely manner”, said Mr Matthew Cossey, Chief Executive Officer of CropLife Australia.
Mr Glen Cross, Chief Executive Officer of AusBiotech, said “AusBiotech cannot emphasis strongly enough the imperative that legislation and regulation pertaining to gene technology must keep pace with innovation, to enable the economic, efficiency and environmental benefits from new technologies to be realised.”
2017 REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL GENE TECHNOLOGY SCHEME
The third review of the National Gene Technology Scheme is also ongoing, with phase two consultations, including workshops, forums and targeted meetings, concluding this month. A consultation paper was released in November to guide Phase 2 of the review process. This document provided background information about previous reviews; outcomes of the first phase of consultations and submissions received; the overarching themes being considered – technical, regulatory, governance and social and ethical issues.
Phase three of the consultation process is anticipated in February/March 2018.
The Legislative and Governance Forum on Gene Technology is conducting this review, independent of the Gene Technology Regulator.
PANAMA DISEASE-RESISTANT GM BANANAS
As mentioned above, Queensland University of Technology researchers have developed and grown GM Cavendish bananas resistant to the devastating soil-borne fungus Fusarium wilt Tropica Race 4 (TR4), also known as Panama disease. Their research results have been published in Nature Communications.
- Transgenic Cavendish bananas with resistance to Fusarium wilt tropical race 4,
USE OF MOLECULAR MARKERS IN THE BERRY FRUIT INDUSTRY
A recently released report by 2014 Nuffield Scholar Karen Brook, a Tasmanian horticulturist, about the use of molecular markers in the berry fruit industry found the development of genetic technologies would both challenge and build upon current propagation techniques for berries. The Australian commercial berry industry consists of blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry production, and is valued at more than $680 million.
The objectives of the project were to:
- Understand the use of molecular markers such as polymerase chain reaction and related techniques in the berry fruit industry.
- Discover traditional breeding programs that integrate molecular markers to reduce timeframes from experimentation to the commercial release of new varieties.
- Understand genomics and its impact on disease resistance and nutritional potential.
- Understand the process of product development for berries.
- Understand genetic material as a legal reference for patents.
- Understand potential products that could be derived from berry plants.
According to Ms Brook’s, the study identified many areas for investigation that were not within the scope of this research. Many opportunities and potential areas for development of plants using biotechnology could provide extensive ongoing research.
GM CORN WITH BOOSTED PROTEIN LEVELS
Researchers at Rutgers University in the USA have found a way to genetically modify corn to boost its protein content. The process involved inserting a bacterial gene which results in the corn producing methionine, an amino acid found in meat, a crucial nutrient for the health of skin, nail and hair. Researchers said the discovery could benefit millions of people in the developing world who depend on corn as a staple, and could reduce animal feed costs.
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal in October.
- ‘Engineering sulfur storage in maize seed proteins without apparent yield loss.’Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201714805 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1714805114
VITAMIN-ENRICHED “GOLDEN POTATOES” IN THE PIPELINE
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies have developed a “golden” potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E. According to news reports, a serving of the yellow-orange GM potato has the potential to provide as much as 42 per cent of a child’s recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34 per cent of a child’s recommended intake of vitamin E.
Findings from the new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article titled, ‘Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries.’
RESEARCHERS PIONEER NEW TECHNIQUE: GM PLANTS SET TO DRAMATICALLY INCREASE
A team of mostly Chinese scientists has announced a new technique, called pollen magnetofection, which they say overcomes the obstacles of traditional plant-transformation methods and clears the way to genetically modify “almost all crops”. Magnetofection is the use of magnetic fields to direct foreign DNA to target cells with nanobio technology, using magnetic nanoparticles to “smuggle” DNA into the heart of the pollen.
Almost all current GM methods involve regenerating a new plant from a single transformed cell using complicated in vitro culture processes. The alternative approach taken by Xiang Zhao, of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, and colleagues is to first manipulate the DNA of pollen, then use this pollen to fertilise a plant’s ovary and directly generate transgenic seeds.
This research has been published in the journal Nature Plants.
- Pollen magnetofection for genetic modification with magnetic nanoparticles as gene carriers
USA SHOPPERS CONFUSED ABOUT GM FOOD
Two new surveys of consumer opinions on food and GM food have been recently released in the USA showing large information gaps. A nationally representative Food Literacy and Engagement Poll ― which is part of Food@MSU, a new initiative based in Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources found:
- more than one-third (37 per cent) of Americans do not know that foods with no genetically modified ingredients contain genes;
- forty-six percent of poll respondents either don’t know whether they consume GMOs or believe they rarely or never do; and
- almost half of respondents (48 per cent) ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ seek information about where their food was grown and how it was produced.
In another study released by The University of Florida, researchers found that “consumers are confused about food labelled as ‘organic’ and ‘non-genetically modified’, with some people believing two labels are synonymous.
To gauge consumers’ willingness to pay for food labelled as GM versus non-GM, researchers conducted a national survey of 1,132 respondents. Specifically, researchers wanted to know how much consumers were willing to spend on food labelled as “USDA Organic” compared to that labelled “Non-GMO Project Verified.” Genetically modified material is not allowed in food labelled “USDA Organic,” while “Non-GMO Project” means the food has no more than 0.9 per cent GM content.
In this study, consumers were willing to pay 35 cents more for Granola bars labelled “non-GMO Project,” from a box that had text that read, “contains genetically engineered ingredients,” while consumers were willing to pay nine cents more for those labelled “USDA Organic”.
With apples, respondents were willing to pay 35 cents more for those labelled “non-GMO Project” and 40 cents more for those labelled “USDA Organic.”
Participants’ responses led Brandon McFadden, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of food and resource economics, and lead author of the study, to conclude that consumers don’t distinguish definitions of the two food labels.
“For example, it’s possible that a product labelled, ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ more clearly communicates the absence of GM ingredients than a product labelled ‘USDA Organic,’” said McFadden.
This study is published in the journal Applied Economics: Perspectives and Policy.
SCIENTISTS DEVELOP THINNER, LEANER PIGS
Using the gene-editing technology, CRISPR, scientists in China have created pigs that are thinner and leaner. Jianguo Zhao of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing worked with a team to create 12 healthy pigs with about 24 per cent less body fat than normal pigs. They used CRISPR to target a special protein known for regulating body temperature by burning a fat protein called UCP1. This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- ‘Reconstitution of UCP1 using CRISPR/Cas9 in the white adipose tissue of pigs decreases fat deposition and improves thermogenic capacity’
BREEDING AND ETHICAL PERSPECTIVES ON GM AND GENOME-EDITED CATTLE
This topic was addressed in an invited review published in the Journal of Dairy Science. Both genetic modification and genome editing are sometimes presented as a rapid solution to various problems in the field of animal breeding and genetics. These technologies hold potential for future use in agriculture but the authors argue, that we need to be aware of difficulties in large-scale application and integration in breeding schemes. In this review, they discuss applications of both classical genetic modifications (GM) using vectors and genome editing in dairy cattle breeding.
Two potential applications are presented in the review: genome editing to dispense with dehorning, and insertion of human genes in bovine genomes to improve udder health as an example of classical GM science. Both applications have positive animal welfare implications.
This issue was also addressed recently on the ABC’s Radio National Program, with farmers, and world-leading researchers asking the question, could new gene editing techniques improve the welfare of animals eaten for food?
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE HINDERING DEVELOPMENT OF ‘ESSENTIAL GM CROPS: SCIENTISTS
A group of agricultural scientists have concluded that genetic modification of crops will be essential to avert future food shortages, but a lack of knowledge is hindering development. “Our knowledge of the genes that limit yield in field conditions needs to be developed,” said Matthew Paul, plant biochemist at Rothamsted and leader of the review team. The study reviewed how biotechnology developments over the past 35 years have shaped the efficiency of crop production.
- Are GM crops for yield and resilience possible?
GM FOOD APPROVAL APPLICATIONS – UPDATE
The table below provides a summary of applications made to amend the Food Standards Code by approving the listed GM commodities as safe for use in Australia and New Zealand.
|A1138||Rice||International Rice Research Institute||Increased levels of provitamin A (Golden Rice).||Public submissions closed 14 September.|
|SPS International Inc||Late blight protection, low acrylamide potential, reduced browning (black spot) and lower reducing sugars.||Approval report published on 29 September.|
|Herbicide tolerance||Approval report published on 29 September.|
|A1143||Canola||Nuseed||Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid production.||Public submissions closed 26 October.|
|A1147||Cotton||Bayer CropScience||Herbicide tolerance||Public submissions close 21 December.|
|A1154||Cotton||Monsanto||Insect resistance||New application. Comment period pending.|
OGTR LICENCE UPDATES
This table provides a summary of licence applications and approvals granted by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in relation to agricultural biotechnology in the last quarter.
|DIR 155||Canola||Nuseed Pty Ltd||Modified for omega-3 oil content (DHA canola)||Commercial release sought. Public comment period closed 30 November.|
|DIR 156||Buffalo grass||RMIT University||Modified for herbicide resistance and dwarf phenotype||Field trial licence sought. Public comment on the Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) is expected in January 2018.|
|DIR 157||Cotton||Syngenta Australia||Insect resistance||Commercial release sought. Public comment period closes on 10 January 2018.|
|DIR 158||Safflower||Go Resources Pty Ltd||High oleic acid composition||Commercial release licence sought. A public comment period on the RARMP is expected in March 2018.|
|DIR 160||Perennial ryegrass||Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources||Fructan biosynthesis||Field trial licence sought. Public comment period closes on 18 January 2018.|
– OGTR NEWSLETTER LAUNCHED
In September, the OGTR launched a newsletter to improve communication with their stakeholders, particularly as part of their communication efforts with Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) and organisations to advise of any updates, changes or news of relevance as well as useful links to assist with processes. The first issue focused on Notifiable Low Risks Dealings (NLRDs) to coincide with the annual reporting period for NLRDs, and the second issue release in November featured a section on “Preparing for a monitoring inspection: So you’ve been selected for an inspection – What happens now?”
COTTON NEWS IN BRIEF
The next phase of expansion in the Ord has officially begun, with Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI) starting work on its $5 million grain grading and packing facility, and gearing up to plant its first large-scale 300 hectare GM cotton trial near Kununurra in January, a dramatic increase from this year’s five hectare trial. According to the news report, plantings will increase to 1000 hectares in 2019, with developers hoping to build a cotton processing gin in the region.
The Weekly Times has reported that cotton is tipped to surpass rice as the biggest irrigated crop in southern NSW, with a 53 per cent jump in cotton plantings this year.
SUGAR INDUSTRY TALKS GM AND BIO-FUTURES
According to an article in Australian Canegrower, looking at GM cane and bio-futures, GM sugarcane and what are now termed bio-futures have been considered important to the industry for a long time, and even though growers have seen little benefit from either of these technologies to-date they have been incorporated into the long-term strategic plan for the industry.
“CANEGROWERS continues to grapple with a strategy for growers and the industry to benefit from GM cane and bio-futures. There is light at the end of the tunnel and although it seems far away I think it is getting brighter,” the article concludes.
GM CROP FEATURE
A feature article published in The Weekly Times in November, provided a comprehensive overview of the past, present and future of GM crop use around the world, with significant input from CSIRO’s Dr John Manners and featuring CSIRO Scientist and ABCA Director, Dr TJ Higgins. The article looking at the history of GM crop development, the value of the industry, its long history of safe use, GM wheat in the development pipeline, the anti-GM campaign in Australia, consumer-related traits, the science, Australia’s GM cotton experience, the development of GM canola rich in Omega 3, the regulatory process, and crops to benefit the developing world.
CSIRO TECHNOLOGY LEADS TO NEW GM PRODUCT IN THE USA
CSIRO’s non-browning technology was rolled out commercially for the first time in October, in Arctic Golden apples, developed by Canadian biotech company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF). OSF is the first company to licence this technology owned by CSIRO.
Apples and other fruit and vegetables such as potatoes turn brown after they are cut or damaged because of a naturally occurring enzyme (polyphenol oxidase or PPO) that reacts with other components in the fruit cells when these cells are ‘broken’, producing a brown pigment. CSIRO scientists constructed an anti-PPO gene which, when inserted into plants, blocks the production of PPO and therefore stops the browning.
Spoilage due to browning costs food processing industries and supermarkets worldwide millions of dollars each year in wastage and costly chemicals to prevent the reaction. This technology has particular potential in crops such as potatoes, beans, lettuce and grapes.
According to OSF, the GM apples will be able in about 400 Midwest retail stores from late October, and the price of the sliced GM apples will be competitive with other suppliers.
In a related article, an opinion piece in The Weekly Times asked, “Why is it that the people who demand we trust scientists on climate change then tell us to distrust scientists on growing and consuming genetically modified crops?” in response to questions on Australia falling behind in the adoption of GM. Two technologies developed in Australia, shunned here, and now benefitting overseas markets are highlighted:
- Non-browning GM apples (as outlined above); and,
- The Agriculture Victoria Services’ LXR delayed plant-leaf senescence technology. Delaying the drying off of a crop or pasture means more photosynthesis, more sugars, more starch for grain, more seeds, more feed and greater drought tolerance. The AVS team has been able to delay senescence in lucerne, canola and white clover, as well as cereals and other grasses. But, the AVS 2016-17 annual report, released last week, states trials are underway in Argentina to collect data to support an application for regulatory approval for the commercial release of LXR®
SENATOR CALLS FOR AUSTRALIA TO LEAD THE WORLD IN GM CROPS
A new WA Liberal senator, Slade Brockman, has used his first speech to parliament to call for Australia to become a world leader in genetically modified crops. He said:
“In a rapidly changing world, it is not enough that we employ the biggest and best equipment. Our farmers must have access to the agricultural revolution fuelled by biotechnology. GM technology has been demonised by some as dangerous and unproven. Yet GM crops have been demonstrated to be safe for human consumption and good for the environment. Australia can and should lead the world in this field. We have the expertise. We have the funding. We must bend our collective will to ensure the fear campaign is not allowed to overwhelm the possibilities inherent in this technology.”
GM WINE AND BEER IN RESEARCH PIPELINE
Researchers from VIB, a research institute in Belgium, have found the gene in yeast responsible for producing rosy or honey aromas in alcoholic drinks. The team claims they can insert this DNA into brewers’ batches to create never-before tasted beer and wine flavours, and they have already partnered with a Belgian brewery to test their yeast strains with several beers.
SHOULD GENE-EDITING TECHNIQUES BE REGULATED UNDER CURRENT GMO LEGISLATION?
The debate about the regulation, or not, of new scientific developments in the field of biotechnology, described as gene-editing techniques, precision-breeding tools, or new plant breeding techniques (NBT’s) continues to rage around the world. The EU regulates the cultivation and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food but debate rages over whether new biotechnologies such as CRISPR-Cas gene editing should be treated differently. In Australia, this question is currently being investigated as part of the Gene Technology Regulations Technical Review.
This article outlines the argument for legal certainty in this area in Europe as research developments in this field race ahead. The Dutch Government has suggested it wants to begin authorising NBT’s outside the GMO regulatory framework, but the European Commission has asked Member States to wait on approving products from the gene editing process while it considers its approach.
GM COTTON AND COWPEAS COMING TO NIGERIA IN 2018
Nigeria’s National Agriculture Seed Council (NASC) has commenced workshops for Nigerian seed companies in preparation for the commercialisation of GM insect-resistant cowpea and cotton by 2018 to educate seed companies that will be involved in the distribution of GM seeds when the nation finally commercialises the new varieties.
The cowpea will be resistant to the cowpea pod borer pest called Maruca testulalis while the cotton is resistant to the cotton bollworm.
UGANDA SET FOR GM POTATOES AND BANANAS WITHIN TWO YEARS
Uganda’s newspaper, The Observer, reports that GM products are set to move through the regulatory pipeline in the next couple of years following the passing of the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill in October.
Scientists have said the first batch of locally grown disease-resistant GM potatoes will likely be on sale in Ugandan markets in 2020 following further field trial testing if the results continue to be promising.
Similarly, researchers at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda have said they are ready to go for open-field trials of the GM banana, before they are released to the public in 2021. The bananas are disease-resistant and are Vitamin-A enriched, and were developed by Queensland researchers.
GM CANOLA AND GM WHEAT MOVE TO NEXT PHASE
Calyxt, a US company which describes itself as “a consumer-centric, food- and agriculture-focused company”, which specialises in gene-editing technology, has announced that its herbicide-tolerant wheat and improved oil composition canola, have moved out of the discovery phase to Phase 1 research which means that they edit identified genes of interest and produce initial seed that contains the desired edit.
All going well, the products will move to Phase II, where field trials, agronomic performance and ingredient functionality occur, and the company confirms that the product is not a regulated article by the USDA. In Phase III, the first commercial-scale pilot production is developed, and the company begins to build out the supply chain and inventory and perform customer testing prior to commercialisation.
The company product pipeline is listed as:
- Discovery phase – Improved protein composition soybean, high fibre wheat II, reduced gluten wheat, cold storable/reduced browning potato, late blight resistant potato, drought tolerant soybean, improved yield soybean, herbicide tolerant canola and herbicide tolerant alfalfa.
- Phase 1 – High fibre wheat, improved oil composition canola, reduced browning potato, herbicide tolerant wheat, improved quality alfalfa.
- Phase 2 – High oleic/low lineolic soybean, cold storable potato and powdery mildew resistant wheat.
- Phase 3 – High oleic soybean.
ABARES OUTLOOK 2018
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