Archive for 2017


Source: CSIRO Media Release – 18 December 2017

Following the submission of a CSIRO report funded by the Australian Oilseed Federation (AOF) members and the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), the European Commission has confirmed Australian canola meets strict new feedstock requirements for EU biodiesel.

To meet its own greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, Europe would have shut its doors to Australian canola from 1 January 2018 unless Australian farmers demonstrated that they grow low-emission canola…

“The EU market is too valuable to lose for Australian canola growers. In 2016/17, Australian canola exports to the EU were typically worth over $1.0 billion, with nearly all those exports being used for biodiesel production,” Mr Goddard said. [Read more…]



Source: Stock & Land – 16 December 2017

Groups against genetically modified (GM) food crops are protesting against a proposal from the Office of the Gene Technology (OGTR) to alter the regulatory status of a series of new plant breeding techniques…However, Matthew Cossey, chief executive of CropLife, Australia’s plant science peak body, welcomed the proposed changes…“The move to clarify the regulations by the OGTR will provide 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.” [Read more…]



Source: Genetic Literacy Project – 08 December 2017

Gene editing technology, particularly the technique called CRISPR, is expected to accelerate the introduction of new crops. This involves making very precise changes to the DNA already present in the plant, unlike conventional GM technology which introduces new genes. As a consequence, the agricultural biotechnology industry hopes it will be subject to lighter regulation, particularly in Europe. To demonstrate the power of CRISPR in plant breeding, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the US recently edited the tomato genome in three different ways to make three distinct changes in the way the plant grows: its fruit size, branching pattern and overall shape. [Read more…]


The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) launched the third edition of The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops at the AusBiotech AusAg & Foodtech Summit in Adelaide.

Mr Ken Matthews AO, ABCA Chairman said that although the role of agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops in meeting production and sustainability challenges is widely recognised by farmers, public discussion is not always based on factual and accessible information.

“This updated Guide provides independent, factual, science-based information to contribute to a more informed national discussion about agricultural biotechnologies,” said Mr Matthews.

The third edition of the Guide was developed using the latest scientifically valid data and reviewed by ABCA’s Expert Scientific Panel, which is chaired by Dr TJ Higgins from the CSIRO. The Guide covers the science, performance, safety and regulation of commercialised GM crops as well as products in the pipeline. This updated edition of the Guide highlights the evolution of plant breeding innovations, such as genome editing using CRISPR-Cas9.

“Australia’s agriculture sector is a significant exporter, employer and driver of rural and regional communities. The uptake of innovative and emerging agricultural biotechnologies allows the sector to remain competitive and innovative in the face of global challenges like a changing climate and a reduction in arable land,” said Mr Matthews.

A record 185.1 million hectares of GM crops were grown globally in 2016, and 60 per cent of the world’s population live in the 26 countries growing GM crops. Despite the widespread adoption by farmers, the technology continues to stimulate considerable community discussion.

“Public policy and a regulatory environment that is guided by scientifically credible and factually correct information on agricultural biotechnology is crucial as Australian farmers and the world’s farming sector seek to double production of food, feed and fibre to meet the nutritional demand of a growing global population.”

In addition to providing factual information on agricultural biotechnology, the third edition of the Guide answers common questions about GM crops and clearly outlines the regulatory arrangements and food safety assessment requirements.

The Guide also presents information on ways to enable continued coexistence between GM and non-GM farming systems and features cases studies of Australian farmers growing GM crops.

The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops is now available online.


07 July 2017. Source: ABC News

Bananas with boosted vitamin A developed in Queensland to save African lives

Bananas genetically modified by Queensland researchers to be vitamin A-enriched are being grown in Uganda, in a breakthrough hoped to save the lives of thousands of east African children.

After more than a decade of development, the first crop has been produced in Uganda using the local variety of cooking banana.

“We are getting over four times our target level [of vitamin A] so we are very happy about that,” researcher Professor James Dale said.

Vitamin A deficiency can lead to blindness, an impaired immune system, and can impact brain development…


23 June 2017. Source: Business Insider Australia 

The controversy over GMOs can be traced to a single fruit

Slicing into the green skin of a Hawaiian papaya ordinarily yields juicy, salmon-coloured fruit that’s almost custard-like in its consistency and sweetness. But in the early 1990s, one Hawaiian farmer instead found bits of whitish, dried-out flesh in his recently harvested fruit. On the skin were discolored spots resembling tiny rings.

It was a sign of trouble for hundreds of Hawaiian papaya farmers who, for the next several years, would lose field after field of their crop — altogether an $US11-million dollar industry. The culprit was an incurable virus called Papaya Ring Spot Virus (PRSV).

In 1992, Dennis Gonsalves, a plant pathologist at Cornell University who grew up in the region most acutely affected by the virus, came up with a wild idea to stop it. He wanted to vaccinate the papaya crop from the virus using genetic engineering. …After nearly a decade of work, Gonsalves and his team established a papaya plant that was genetically resistant to ring spot. The Gonsalves’ crops blossomed across farms that had been decimated by the virus. Today, their fruit, which they named the Rainbow papaya, dominates Hawaii’s papaya exports…


20 June 2017. Source: SciDevNet

Brazil’s transgenic sugarcane stirs up controversy

A genetically modified (GM) cane variety that can kill the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis) has been approved in Brazil,  to the delight of some scientists and the dismay of others, who say it may threaten Brazilian biodiversity.

Brazil is the second country, after Indonesia, to approve the commercial cultivation of GM sugarcane. The approval was announced by the Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) on June 8.

Sugarcane borer is one of the main pests of the sugarcane fields of South-Central Brazil, causing losses of approximately US$1.5 billion per year.


12 June 2017. Source: Daily Nation

Genetic engineering boosts immunity against crop disease

The chemicals that farmers spray on their crops in form of pesticides to kill pests and prevent diseases have always been a bone of contention, with researchers trying to find safer alternatives. A new variety of rice that fights multiple pathogens with no effect on the yield of the crop, is thus a welcome relief for both farmers and scientists.

The discovery is based on a study of the plant’s immune system. Plants use receptors on the outside of their cells to identify molecules that signal a microbial invasion, and respond by releasing antimicrobial compounds. Therefore, identifying genes that kickstart this immune response yields disease-resistant plants…The researchers tested the superiority of engineered rice over regular rice by inoculating crop leaves with the bacterial pathogens that cause rice blight and leaf streak, as well as the fungus responsible for blast disease. Whereas the infections spread on the leaves of  wild rice plants, the engineered plants confined the invaders to a small area.


14 June 2017. Source: Reuters (UK)

China approves two new GMO crop varieties for import, renews 14 -ag ministry

China approved two new varieties of genetically modified (GMO) crops for import from June 12, after the world’s top buyer of GMO soybeans pledged to speed up a review of biotech products as part of a recent trade deal with the United States.

The approvals of new GMO imports follow an agreement on protocols for shipments of U.S. beef to China that was also promised under the broader trade deal last month.

The new GMO varieties are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybean, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement on Wednesday.



05 June 2017. Source: PG Economics

New report highlights 20 years of economic and environmental benefits from using biotech/GM crops

A new report released today by PG Economics has found that over the last 20 years, crop biotechnology has significantly reduced agriculture’s environmental impact and stimulated economic growth in the 26 countries where the technology is used. The innovative agricultural technology has contributed to preserving the earth’s natural resources while allowing farmers to grow more, high quality crops. It has also helped alleviate poverty for 16.5 million, mostly smallholder farmers, in developing countries.


02 May 2017. Source: Media Release Australian Academy of Sciences

‘Evolution-bending’ gene editing technology—do the potential benefits outweigh the risks?

The Academy has released a discussion paper on new gene-editing technologies that override natural selection.

‘Gene drive’ technology allows scientists to manipulate the DNA of small plants or animals in a way that forces or ‘drives’ inheritance of particular genetic traits and characteristics to successive generations. The technology could wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitos, cane toads or other pests and plant diseases within years, but like any new technology, has potential risks.

Before gene drives are used in Australia, and before they start being used at scale elsewhere in the world, it’s important to consider the applications that are of most benefit and the risks associated with those applications. Once gene drives are released into wild populations in other countries, they will inevitably reach Australia.

This discussion paper will stimulate Australian governments and communities to consider the issues now.


Source: ISAAA Brief 52-2016: Press Release

Biotech/GM Crops Surge to a New Peak of 185.1 Million Hectares in 2016
Global Area Rebounds from 2015 as Farmers Continue to Adopt Biotech Crops

Beijing (May 4, 2017) – Today, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) released its annual report showcasing the 110-fold increase in adoption rate of biotech crops globally in just 21 years of commercialization – growing from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 185.1 million hectares in 2016. ISAAA’s report, “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2016,” continues to demonstrate the long-standing benefits of biotech crops for farmers in developing and industrialized countries, as well as consumer benefits of recently approved and commercialized varieties.

“Biotech crops have become a vital agricultural resource for farmers around the world because of the immense benefits for improved productivity and profitability, as well as conservation efforts,” said ISAAA Chair of the Board, Paul S. Teng. “With the commercial approvals and plantings of new varieties of biotech potatoes and apples, consumers will begin to enjoy direct benefits of biotechnology with produce that is not likely to spoil or be damaged, which in turn has the potential to substantially reduce food waste and consumer grocery costs.”

Examining other benefits of biotechnology, ISAAA reports that the adoption of biotech crops has reduced CO2 emissions equal to removing approximately 12 million cars from the road annually in recent years; conserved biodiversity by removing 19.4 million hectares of land from agriculture in 2015; and decreased the environmental impact with a 19% reduction in herbicide and insecticide use.1 Additionally, in developing countries, planting biotech crops has helped alleviate hunger by increasing the incomes for 18 million small farmers and their families, bringing improved financial stability to more than 65 million people.


28 March 2017. Source: Productivity Commission

This report was sent to Government on 15 November 2016 and publicly released on 28 March 2017.

The report is about regulation that affects farm businesses.

Key points:

  • Farm businesses are subject to a vast and complex array of regulations…The number and complexity of regulations affecting farm  businesses means that the cumulative burden of regulation on farmers is substantial.
  • The need for regulation is not disputed by farm businesses… Rather, Australian farmers want ‘better’ (or less burdensome) regulation.
  • Some regulations lack a sound policy justification and should be removed. Examples include restrictions on the use of land held under pastoral lease arrangements, state bans on cultivating genetically modified crops, barriers to entry for foreign shipping providers, mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods…
  • In other cases, regulation is the wrong policy tool. Regulatory changes to address community concerns about foreign investment in agriculture, for example, are costly and  likely to be ineffective. A better informed conversation about foreign investment is needed.
  • Other regulations and regulatory systems need to be reformed so they can more fully achieve their objectives…
  • Inconsistent regulatory requirements across and within jurisdictions make it difficult for farmers to understand their obligations and add to the cost of doing business…
  • Governments could also reduce the regulatory burden on farm businesses by:
    • improving their consultation and engagement practices…
    • doing more to coordinate their actions, both between agencies and between governments
    • ensuring that good regulatory impact assessment processes are used as an analytical tool to support quality regulation making, not as a legitimising tool or compliance exercise.


27 April 2017. Source: Media Release, WA Department of Agriculture and Food

The development of new and improved barley varieties is set to be accelerated, after the complete barley genome was recently mapped by an international consortium, which included Western Australian scientists.

The Western Barley Genetics Alliance, a partnership between the Department of Agriculture and Food and Murdoch University, was a major contributor to the research, assisted by funds from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

Alliance Director, Murdoch University Professor Chengdao Li, said the WA-based group was among the elite group of international scientists who mapped two of the seven barley chromosomes…

We have developed the ‘gold standard’ of genetic maps, resulting in greater precision and more detailed data, which will provide plant breeders and researchers with confidence to manipulate genes to develop the next generation of barley varieties,” he said.


Anderson: plenty of fake news in agriculture

Source: FarmOnline – 25 February 2017

Fake news is an ever-present danger for Australian agriculture that hinders access to scientifically approved Genetically Modified wheat varieties, while prompting emotive debates like the current one on energy affordability. That’s the view of new Crawford Fund Chairman and former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson in calling for less emotion and great scientific focus, in such critical policy debates…Mr Anderson is also co-patron of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia and said despite GM wheat varieties being foreshadowed for commercialisation in seven to 10 years, that time-frame was closing but progress had “stalled”, despite advanced science.