Latest Biotech News


1 November 2014


AGRICULTURAL Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) chair Ken Matthews says some Australian governments are “gutless” when it comes to giving farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops.

The former secretary of both the agriculture and transport departments made the no-nonsense observation in a detailed outline of global and domestic attitudes on biotechnology at the National Farmers’ Federation Congress in Canberra last week.

Mr Matthews summed up by saying Australia suffers from not having a more objective, science-based discussion about agricultural biotechnology.

“It’s really important that Australia has practicing farmers speak up for agricultural biotechnology because it’s practicing farmers that will be persuasive.”

The ongoing anti-GM campaign is one of the “big risks” facing the technology’s development, he said.

“There is a great suspicion of science and scientists in public debate in Australia and there has been a very effective campaign by NGOs (non-government organisations) which has influenced public opinion.

“As a result, what worries me is that environmentally responsible farmers – who tend in many other areas to be leaders of farm opinion – can often be ambivalent about GM.

“The pro-GM constituency among farmers is therefore not as strong as it could be in Australia.”

Governments need to lead

Mr Matthews said attitudes held by the general public, consumers, environmentalists and media were also central problems in the GM debate.

But his strongest criticism was reserved for various governments that refuse to allow GM crops to be cultivated, despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

“Some governments in Australia are – and I use this word carefully – gutless,” he said.

“There are total bans on GM in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT,” he said.

“There are moratoriums in WA and NSW but there are certainly exemptions for that. In my view they (total bans) aren’t rationally based; they aren’t properly founded in science.

“Those moratoria need to be ended and we need to avoid further mandatory labelling requirements, unless they can be justified.”

Hinting at the recent high profile legal case involving neighbouring organic and GM farmers, Steve Marsh and Mike Baxter in Kojonup WA, Mr Matthews said the problem with reconciling organic standards and GM crops also “needs to be tackled”.

He said there were three inescapable truths about biotechnology: the first being that it provides a critical opportunity to lift the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Australian agriculture over the next 20 years.

Secondly, he said biotechnology was critical to meeting rapidly rising global food needs. And thirdly, biotechnology will inevitably continue to attract “suspicion and opposition” in some community sectors, slowing its development.

Mr Matthews said that opposition was based on four key concerns: food safety; environmental damage; “agrochemical industry domination” and “a roundup of ethical and religious issues”.

However, he said science delivered a very clear message about the safety of GM technology.

GM safety scientifically proven

Mr Matthews said more than 100 of the world’s independent science oversight bodies, including “very authoritative and credible organisations” in the US and Europe, shared a consensus that GM crops are “as safe as conventional varieties – and often safer because of the extensive approval process they need to go through”.

“The scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of GM safety, assuming that we continue with the sound regulatory processes that we have,” he said.

“There have now been 3 trillion meals (consumed) involving or including GM and there’s been not one recorded case of harm.

“There have been 70 billion animals which have been feeding on GM feed of some sort, and not one recorded case of harm.”

Mr Matthews said a recent European review of over 1700 scientific studies around the world about environmental impacts of GM concluded that there was little or no evidence GM crops caused negative environmental impacts.

“To me, as a student of public policy, it’s really interesting that the environment movement is very keen for science to be heard in the climate change debate – but where the science is very clear, no one seems to want to know about biotechnology,” he said.

Mr Matthews faced a question from the floor at the NFF Congress from NSW Farmers executive councillor Gai Marshall, referring to the controversial Seralini rat study on GM corn, which purported to find the GM feed caused tumour growth. Ms Marshall said she wasn’t against growing GM but wanted to see greater traceability.

Mr Matthews said the Seralini piece of science had been retracted. “It has been rejected, it has been withdrawn,” he said.

“The peer review, the second time around, found it totally discredited.”

A solution to global food security?

Mr Matthews said the problems GM could solve were “unprecedented in history”.

He said there are huge farm business opportunities from potential GM products like self-fertilising plants that could “revolutionise agriculture and certainly would decouple agriculture from the oil industry”.

GM crops also had a key role to play in aiding the future food demand task as the world’s population grows from 7.2 billion now to 9.6 billion by 2050, with decreasing land and water to develop globally – 800 million people already go to bed hungry each night and 1 billion people are chronically undernourished, he said.

“In the meantime, if I can be a bit provocative, there are some pretty comfortable western based NGOs which continue to oppose and to slow down biotechnology, on non-scientific, without evidence grounds,” he said.

Mr Matthews said a striking example of that argument was the fact 250 million children are currently suffering from vitamin A deficiency but GM food crops with existing solutions “are having trouble getting mobilised”.

“Norman Borlaug, said to be the father of the green revolution, said once that if the naysayers do stop agricultural GM they might actually precipitate those famines and crises they’ve been predicting for years,” he said.

Mr Matthews said the technology’s uptake was unprecedented, with 79 per cent of global soybean area and 70pc of global cotton area now GM.

“Growers are certainly not changing their mind and going back after they trial GM,” he said.

“Over the last 200 years there have been several waves of innovation in agriculture such as mechanisation, conventional plant breeding, chemical fertilisers and chemical herbicides.

“But none of them has been adopted as rapidly as GM seeds and I can tell you that animal-based GM is coming up very fast behind them.

“One eighth of global farm land is now GM, so this is a sort of mega bus that will not be stoppable.”

Mr Matthews said GM offers varieties with production benefits like faster growth rates and yields, drought tolerance, pesticide reduction and nutrient efficiency.

He said exciting work is also happening to generate varieties with consumer and health benefits like foods with fewer saturated fats, zero allergens, increased dietary fibre, reduced natural toxins, higher protein levels, built in vaccines, cholesterol management, and vitamin A.

“Benefits do flow to big biotech companies but perversely the regulatory costs – as a consequence of pressure from the opponents of GM – now make approvals just out of reach for anyone but the big firms,” he said.

“As an example, a single new GM trait may now cost $139 million, including $35 million just for the approvals part of that, and around the world it takes five-and-a-half years on average to gain a single new approval.

“Are those costs and time problems squeezing out public good innovations such as environmental public health innovations or small market GM innovations?”

Need to build trust

Mr Matthews said Australia grew GM canola and GM cotton and had great strengths in the area, with a world class regulatory system and plant breeding expertise.

But he said a three-part plan was needed to help overcome the slow progress of biotechnology development.

He said a constituency of biotechnology supporters was needed to build understanding of the potential benefits to farmers, consumers, the environment and society as a whole.

“We need to build community confidence and trust in Australia’s regulatory arrangements,” he said.

“We do need to be respectful of ethical concerns about biotechnology, but at the same time we need to give voice to the beneficiaries, and I think of those kids in Africa.

“When people are talking grandly about ethical concerns about biotechnology I worry about starving kids in Africa.

“We need to focus research more on benefits to consumers, to the environment, to society and we need to find some champions.”




A GREATER effort is needed from farmers to improve mainstream attitudes towards genetically modified (GM) crops, says Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia chairman and NSW Farmers guest speaker Ken Matthews.

He said GM crops had many benefits for consumers and the environment, as well as farmers.

“I’m a believer in agricultural biotechnology, I think it’s just so important for our future that it’s time people took a position on bio technology,” Mr Matthews said.

He started by explaining what he said were two truths.

“I think biotechnology is absolutely critical factor for the success of farming in Australia and is the single most important single issue over the next couple of decades.

“(And) it’s certainly a pretty good opportunity to lift productivity.”

GM’s growth has been rapid, with 98 per cent of sugar wet grown in the US being GM just three years after the technology being released in that market.

Likewise, in Australia GM cotton, which has been available since 1996, makes up 99pc of our production.

“Or if you look at the canola figures in the four years from 2008 to 2012 farm income benefits of $27 million (have been realised) for Australian growers,” Mr Matthews said.

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council was set up in 2012 as an industry initiative which aims to improve understanding of the potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology and ensure that farmers, if they wish, can access these technologies.

“We aren’t I in the business of advocacy, but we are in the business of developing and providing factual evidence and data that might assist that debate,” he said.

Examples he used to demonstrate what biotechnology was already doing for agriculture included rapid grow salmon, water efficient wheat, pesticide reduction, fire blight resistant apples weren’t off the market, and rust resistance cereals were also “very close to the end of the pipeline”.

He also referred to consumer benefits, which he said “is something we should be doing more about”.

These included the removal of saturated fats from food, removal of allergens, increased dietary fibre, increased vitamin availability and even non-browning apples.

Mr Matthews was keen to see greater public support from farmers for GM crops because it potentially reduced farm input costs, faster, more accurate diagnostic tests, improvements to quality and consistency and also improvement of novel features such as colour and taste.

“All of these things are becoming available right now.”

However, environmental benefits were the biggest factor he felt could help improve the understanding and acceptance of GM crops.

“If the community can see benefits for them as well as for producers then they will be inclined to be more supportive,” he said.

This included feral pest control, weed management, environment clean up and biodegradable packaging.

A concern often raised was who benefits financially from this technology?

“Isn’t it just the big end of town, well that’s true. It is a very profitable, and I think it will become an even more profitable business into the future. Even the technology start-ups have to align themselves with some of the big end of town to get their products registered,” he said.

“But also there are benefits for producers… To consumers and public benefits and environment benefits.”

Mr Matthews explained that part of this education was also helping people to understand that Australia’s regulatory systems are among the best in the world.

“I think we have to… acknowledge risks and use science and good governance to manage those risks and our regulatory system is looked on by others as being a very good example of doing that.”

“The thing that really want to leave with you is that we really need farmers to stand up about this.”

The first step was to change public, consumer, environmental and media attitudes.

“I think we need to be very respectful of differences of opinion about this,” he said.

“We need to challenge those attitudes by reasoned argument, by persuasion, by producing evidence and not by shouting.”

The four steps he believes need to be done are:

1. It’s incumbent on those people who see the potential in biotechnology to build understanding of its benefits;

2. Confidence also needs building in the regulatory regime in Australia

3. Trust needs building around biotechnology

4. Ethical concerns need to be respected.

He also said the regulatory process could be simplified and moratoriums in some States needed reviewing because “they’ve not been put in place for reasons of conscience”.

“We have an instant regulatory systems that can deal with the safety and risk misuses perfectly well without a moratorium.”



14 January 2013

Australian bid wins international agricultural biotechnology conference

Australia has won the bid to host the 2015 Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC), the world’s leading forum for the promotion of innovation in agricultural bioscience.

AusBiotech, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) and CropLife Australia jointly put forward the successful bid to host the 15th ABIC Conference in Melbourne. The three organisations will work together to leverage this significant achievement and the many opportunities it presents for the advancement of agricultural biotechnology in Australia.

ABIC will bring together industry leaders, researchers, scientists, investors and policy makers to discuss the role of bioscience as a major force in developing, creating and ensuring food and fuel security. This facilitates the links between business and research communities that enables ground-breaking innovation to be translated into products and services of benefit to the community.

The world is currently faced with a situation where growing enough food for people to eat will soon be a challenge faced by all countries. Australia, as one of the few large food exporting countries, has a unique opportunity to take the lead in innovating to produce safe, nutritious and affordable food for domestic and export markets.

AusBiotech CEO, Dr Anna Lavelle, said today: “The Australian agricultural biotechnology sector has an enormous amount to contribute to global debate and to address biotechnology’s role in some of the biggest agricultural issues of our time, such food and fuel security, health and nutrition.”

“AusBiotech has previously won the bid for ABIC and hosted the 2005 event. We look forward to working with a strong coalition to again showcase our ‘home-grown’ agbiotech developments to the world, working this time with CropLife and the newly-formed ABCA (of which we are a founding member) to really optimise the value of this event for Australia.”

CropLife CEO, Matthew Cossey, added: “This is important news for Australian agriculture.  CropLife Australia is proud to represent the world leaders in agricultural biotechnology, and accordingly to be part of the joint venture which is bringing such a globally significant conference to Australia. It is crucial that Australia’s plant science industry continues to ensure Australian farming is at the forefront of global food, feed and fibre production.”

“The conference will bring unprecedented opportunities to stimulate and showcase Australia’s agbiotech capability to the world,” concluded Chair of ABCA, Claude Gauchat.


Media enquiries:
Lorraine Chiroiu, Communications Manager, AusBiotech
[email protected]
P: +61 (0) 3 9828 1414
M: +61 (0) 429 801 118

Jessica Lee, Manager – Public Affairs and Research, CropLife Australia

[email protected]

P: +61 (0) 2 6230 6399

M: +61 (0) 410 491 261


About the Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference (ABIC)

The first ABIC conference was held in Canada in 1996 and in 1998 the ABIC Foundation was set up to ensure the continued success of the ABIC Conferences. The Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation overseen by a board of directors with representation from several countries and based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Canada.  Its goal is to ensure ongoing opportunities for continuous learning and networking within the agricultural biotechnology community through the annual Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference.  ABIC brings industry professionals together to learn about the latest advances in agricultural biotechnology and discuss how technologies can be applied to global issues such as climate change, sustainability, food production and health and nutrition.

About AusBiotech
AusBiotech is Australia’s biotechnology industry organisation working on behalf of over 3,000 members in the areas of human health, medical devices, food technology, agriculture, environmental and industrial biotechnology, for more than 25 years. AusBiotech is dedicated to the development, growth and prosperity of the Australian biotechnology industry.

AusBiotech is dedicated to the development, growth and prosperity of the Australian biotechnology industry, by providing initiatives to drive sustainability and growth, outreach and access to markets, and representation and support for members nationally and around the world. AusBiotech has representation in each Australian state providing a national network to support members and promote the commercialisation of Australian bioscience in the national and international marketplaces.

About ABCA
ABCA is the national coordinating organisation for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector and was established to pursue recognition of the current and potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology. ABCA is a joint industry initiative with four founding members – AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, Grains Research & Development Corporation and the National Farmers’ Federation.

About CropLife
CropLife Australia (CropLife) is the peak industry organisation representing the agricultural chemical and biotechnology (plant science) sector in Australia.  CropLife represents the innovators, developers, manufacturers and formulators of crop protection and agricultural biotechnology products.  The plant science industry provides products to protect crops against pests, weeds and diseases, as well as developing crop biotechnologies that are key to the nation’s agricultural productivity, sustainability and food security. The plant science industry is worth more than $1.5 billion a year to the Australian economy and directly employs thousands of people across the country.

CropLife and its members are committed to the stewardship of their products throughout their lifecycle and to ensuring that human health, environment and trade issues associated with agricultural chemical use in Australia are responsibly and sustainably managed. Our member companies spend more than $13 million a year on stewardship activities to ensure the safe and effective use of their products. CropLife ensures the responsible use of these products through its mandatory industry code of conduct and has set a benchmark for industry stewardship through programs such as drumMUSTER, ChemClear® and Agsafe Accreditation and Training. Our stewardship activities demonstrate our commitment to managing the impacts associated with container waste and unwanted chemicals.



Source: Stock and Land, by Colin Bettles

3 January 2013

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) has held its first meeting, agreeing to a vision, mission and various objectives.

The council, launched in September, aims to encourage national co-ordination of the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector to counter negative messages about the controversial plant technology.

The council wants to encourage informed debate on biotechnology – or genetically modified crops – through the provision of credible, balanced, science-based information.

For the full article contact: [email protected]



Source: The Land. By Colin Bettles.

18 December 2012

THE Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) has held its first ever meeting, agreeing to a vision, mission and various objectives.

The ABCA was launched in September at Parliament House in Canberra and aims to encourage national co-ordination of the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector to counter negative messaging about the controversial plant technology.

The Council wants to encourage informed debate on biotechnology – or genetically modified (GM) crops – through the provision of credible, balanced, science-based information.

The ABCA is a joint initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

Former deputy prime minister John Anderson and the former chairperson of CSIRO and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria Professor Adrienne Clarke are co-patrons, and Claude Gauchat is the inaugural Chairman.

At the time of launching, federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the Australian government welcomed the further engagement by industry in the biotechnology space that the ABCA would provide.

Minister Ludwig said the government considers that agricultural biotechnology can play an important part in helping to deal with emerging challenges, including those arising from climate change, pressure on global food supplies and the management of pests and diseases.

The Council issued a statement from its first meeting in early December saying its agreed vision was for the current and potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology to be “fully recognised” to ensure the Australian farming sector can adopt this technology for the benefit of national and global food security, the nation’s farming sector, and the environment, “thus helping to deliver a more sustainable and prosperous future for Australian agriculture”.

ABCA’s mission is to ensure that public awareness, public policy and the regulatory environment is guided by scientifically credible and factually correct information regarding the full benefits that agricultural biotechnology offers to Australian farming, as the world’s farming sector seeks to double production to meet the food and nutritional requirements of the growing global population.

“ABCA’s mission is guided by this global food security challenge and the role that Australian agriculture can play in working together to recognise that farmers will need access to the full range of modern innovative tools to maximise the output of our existing farming land while ensuring that the natural environment is protected, conserved and enhanced,” the statement said.

In discussing opportunities and challenges for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector, the Council members agreed the following issues were of strategic importance;

  • Development of an effective, evidence-based communications approach that is focussed on public awareness, public policy and the regulatory environment
  • Identifying the value and benefits of the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector
  • Supporting coexistence between agricultural production systems in Australia.

“As Australia develops its National Food Plan and prepares to make the most of the opportunities presented by the Asian Century, it is absolutely key that Australian farmers have access to every available tool and technology,” the statement said.

“Agricultural biotechnology is one such tool, which presents enormous opportunities, both for the productivity of Australian agriculture and in delivering global food security.”

The Ag Institute of Australia, AusBiotech, Australian Oilseeds Federation, Australian Seed Federation, Cotton Australia, CropLife Australia, Grain Trade Australia, GRDC, NFF and Science and Technology Australia were represented at the meeting.

ABCA’s next meeting will be held in March 2013.