Quarterly Update – Edition 13
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Welcome to the latest Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) update. This year has already produced two very welcome contributions to the biotechnology landscape in Australia.
Firstly, the Council welcomes the public release of the final report of the Productivity Commission’s Public Inquiry into the Regulation of Australian Agriculture. This report focuses on identifying specific areas of regulation that are unnecessarily burdensome, complex or redundant, such as the moratoria in place in Tasmania and South Australia.
The recommendations relating to removing state moratoria on GM crops in place in some jurisdictions and coordinating communication strategies to increase public knowledge about the benefits and risks to the Australian community from genetic modification technologies are in-line with ABCA’s position on agricultural biotechnology. As the national coordinating organisation for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector, ABCA promotes the use of credible, balanced, science-based information on biotechnology and endorses the Productivity Commission’s common-sense recommendations.
Secondly, ABCA looks forward to the next stage of the technical review initiated by Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator 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). It is pleasing to see the number of submissions made by ABCA’s members, and the wider agriculture and biotechnology sector. Submissions are publicly available for those interested in reading through them (see the story in Section 3).
ABCA recognises the importance of new techniques in plant and animal breeding and believes regulatory oversight should be science-based, and clear and consistent to encourage innovation in Australian agriculture.
The last quarter has been a busy one for agricultural biotechnology with new developments reported across all sectors including growing momentum to develop novel fatty acids from oilseed crops by a number of organisations globally; GM wheat with yield boosts attributed to improved photosynthesis; high-protein hypoallergenic milk; the pending arrival of GM apples into the US marketplace, and much more.
The latest global GM crop statistics released by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) highlight the positive impacts of GM crops used by millions of farmers across the globe, but the ISAAA report also highlights the regulatory, trade and communication challenges that remain, and the work that still needs to be done.
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.
THE ABCA BOARD
Over the last quarter, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) has continued to press for a more informed and rational public discussion of biotechnology issues in Australia. The Board meets regularly and oversees a program of research work to deliver factual information into the public domain. The full Council meets less frequently but its meetings provide an important opportunity for interested parties to stay in touch and informed about agricultural biotechnology issues as they develop.
The ABCA Chair recently wrote to State, Territory and Commonwealth Ministers for Agriculture updating them on Council activities and highlighting several emerging issues of importance to the development of the agricultural biotechnology in Australia.
First, processes are currently in train to review the regulatory machinery for gene technologies in Australia. Consistent with ABCA’s philosophies, ABCA is keen to ensure that the future Australian system of regulation is firmly based on science and evidence. Several highly promising new plant and animal breeding techniques have been developed in recent years. Decisions need to be made about whether and how the regulatory system should accommodate them. Whatever the outcome, the very significant economic, environmental, health and animal welfare opportunities of these new breeding techniques make it vital that Australia’s regulatory regime is risk-based and gives due weight to science, evidence, and expert advice.
Second, there will be opportunities over the next few years to put in place a single national approach to the regulation of GM and related gene technologies, as originally intended. In the interests of our national science effort, and particularly in the interests of agricultural producers and environmental managers, ABCA encourages a uniform approach to the deployment of approved technologies across all Australian states. This will require review of the remaining state-based moratoria on GM crops.
Third, ABCA is concerned about the potential for abrupt and unwarranted disruption of international trade and domestic retail sales as a result of the unintended presence, at low levels, of minute amounts of approved GM material in non-GM produce. To reduce these risks, ABCA would encourage a proactive policy approach from governments to deal with low level presence (LLP) incidents. This planning needs to involve both a pre- and post-border response by all levels of government. ABCA also supports current efforts by industry and the Federal Government, such as the Global LLP Initiative, to negotiate arrangements to manage international trade potentially affected by LLP.
20 YEARS OF GM COTTON
In December, ABCA released a fact sheet providing information about Australia’s 20-year experience with genetically modified (GM) cotton. The fact sheet provides information on the cotton industry, an overview of GM cotton varieties and the regulation surrounding them, future GM cotton varieties in research and development, the use of cotton in human and animal foodstuffs and further information resources. Australia’s cotton growers planted the nation’s inaugural GM crop in 1996, an insect resistant cotton variety. Twenty years on, almost the entire cotton crop is now comprised of insect resistant and herbicide tolerant GM varieties, with seven current commercial release licences and a further six licences that permit the limited and controlled release (field trials) of GM varieties.
The use of GM varieties has resulted in many benefits for Australia’s cotton farmers, their communities and the environment.
ABCA provides a weekly summary of biotechnology news developments for subscribers. Contact ABCA to be added to the distribution list.
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LATEST GLOBAL GM CROP FIGURES RELEASED
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has released its annual report on the adoption and distribution of GM crops in 2016, with farmers in 26 countries, 19 developing and 7 industrial, growing GM crops across 185.1 million hectares.
Australian farmers continue to embrace crop biotechnology with an increase in GM crop plantings of 29 per cent, to a total of around 850,500 hectares in 2016. This improvement is mostly from GM cotton which saw a significant increase in plantings due to the introduction of new GM varieties. GM cotton comprises nearly 100 per cent of the Australian cotton crop. GM herbicide tolerant canola was grown on approximately 405,000 hectares in 2016, planted by more than 1000 Australian farmers with more than 180 growers planting it for the first time.
Key highlights of the report include:
- The four major GM crops were soybean, maize, cotton, and canola.
- Half of the global GM crop acreage is comprised of GM soybean (91.4 million hectares).
- Seventy-eight per cent of the global soybean crop is GM, 64 per cent of all the world’s cotton is GM, and 26 per cent of maize and 24 per cent of canola were GM varieties in 2016.
- The area planted to herbicide tolerant crops was 86.5 million hectares in 2016, occupying 47 per cent of the global GM hectarage. The herbicide tolerance trait is in soybean, canola, maize, alfalfa, and cotton.
- The use of stacked traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance) has dramatically increased to 41 per cent of the global GM hectarage, up 29 per cent in 2016 to 75.4 million hectares from 58.4 million hectares in 2015.
- The USA leads GM crop planting in 2016 at 72.9 million hectares, followed by Brazil (49.1 million hectares), Argentina (23.8 million hectares), Canada (11.6 million hectares) and India (10.8 million hectares).
The ISAAA report states that GM crops contribute to food security, sustainability and climate change by increasing crop productivity, conserving biodiversity, providing a better environment, recuing CO2 emissions and helping to alleviate poverty by helping 18 million small farmers, and their families totalling approximately 65 million people, who are some of the poorest people in the world.
Despite these successes, and a long history of proven safe use, challenges remain for the successful commercialisation of GM crops in the pipeline according to ISAAA, and these challenges include regulatory barriers; the growing trade disruptions brought by asynchronous approvals and thresholds on low level presence in GM crop trading countries; and, the need for continuous dialogue among all stakeholders for the expeditious understanding and appreciation of biotechnology, emphasising benefits and safety.
FINAL REPORT RELEASED: PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE REGULATION OF AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURE
The Australian Government asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a 9-month public inquiry into the regulatory burden on farm businesses last year. The inquiry focused on regulations that have a material impact on the competitiveness and productivity of Australian agriculture, with the aim of defining priority areas for removing or reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on farm businesses, and, identifying unnecessary restrictions on competition.
The final report was publicly released on 28 March 2017.
Some of the recommendations of relevance to agricultural biotechnology include:
Regulation of technologies
The New South Wales, South Australian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory Governments should remove their moratoria (prohibitions) on genetically modified crops. All state and territory governments should also repeal the legislation that imposes or gives them powers to impose moratoria on genetically modified organisms by 2018.
The removal of the moratoria and repeal of the relevant legislation should be accompanied by coordinated communication strategies designed to increase public knowledge about the benefits and risks to the Australian community from genetic modification technologies. The Australian, state and territory governments, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia New Zealand should actively coordinate their communication strategies.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation should amend its policy guidelines to make labelling of genetically modified foods voluntary, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand should remove the requirement in the Food Standards Code to label genetically modified foods.
As the national coordinating organization for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector, ABCA has always promoted the use of credible, balanced, science-based information on biotechnology to enable better-informed policy decision-making and it is encouraging to see the Productivity Commission’s recommendations being based on facts.
WA ELECTION RESULT
Labor’s Mark McGowan has been sworn in as WA’s 30th Premier following his party’s landslide victory over the Liberal-National government on 11 March, claiming 41 seats of the 59 seat parliament.
Of particular relevance to ABCA stakeholders, Alannah MacTiernan is the new Minister responsible for Agriculture in the McGowan government. The new leader of the Liberal Party is Mike Nahan, and the new National Party leader is Mia Davies.
Premier McGowan has announced significant changes to WA’s public service, and as a result, the Department of Agriculture and Food will become part of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
In mid-January, WA Labor indicated, that while it would support the continued use of GM canola in the State, it would look to address issues regarding “contamination”.
TECHNICAL REVIEW OF AUSTRALIAN GENE TECHNOLOGY REGULATIONS 2001
The deadline for submissions on the discussion paper prepared by the Office of the Australian Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) concerning its review of the Gene Technology Regulations closed on 16 December 2016, and submissions are now available online.
The Gene Technology Regulator initiated a technical review of the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 (the Regulations) 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.
The OGTR prepared a Discussion Paper canvasing four options for how new technologies could be regulated, which includes consultation questions, and submissions were sought addressing these four options. Proposals for amendments to other technical or scientific aspects of the GT Regulations were also invited.
ABCA recognises the importance of new techniques in plant and animal breeding and believes regulatory oversight should be science based, clear and consistent to encourage innovation in Australian agriculture.
ACADEMY OF SCIENCE RELEASES “GENE DRIVE” DISCUSSION PAPER
The Australian Academy of Science has released a discussion paper which considers the use of synthetic gene drives in an Australian context and highlights the potential benefits and risks of possible applications and emphasises the need for Australia to consider these within a risk assessment framework.
Titled, Synthetic gene drives in Australia: implications of emerging technologies, the paper discusses the environmental, social and economic issues surrounding such technologies and how the technology can be managed within Australia’s governance arrangements. The paper is intended to be part of a global discussion underway on this issue.
The Academy’s report and its recommendations were developed by an expert working group and involved broad consultation.
PERCEPTIONS OF GM FOOD ARE INFORMED BY MORE THAN JUST SCIENCE
In this piece published in The Conversation, the authors looks at the perceptions people hold about GM foods, and how the science behind their development, safety and regulation, is just a small part of the information people use when considering whether they will choose to eat them or not. They argue that science communicators need to realise that everyday decisions that involve science don’t occur in a vacuum; there is not one singular body of knowledge called “science” with which people engage; and one of the consequences of the communication model largely used to-date has been to limit conversations about GM foods to how they are made, and how risk is assessed by regulators, rather than discussion of broader issues.
The authors call for communicators to consider the shared food values between those who eat and those who do not eat GM foods as an important foundation for engagement.
NOVEL CROP SPRAY PROTECTS PLANTS FROM VIRUSES
Scientists from the University of Queensland have demonstrated that they can use a crop spray to silence genes in plants, rendering the plants resistant to a virus for several weeks.
The researchers have developed a technique that allows it to deposit RNA onto the leaves of crops. The spray makes use of microscopic sheets of clay, into which RNA is loaded. As the sheets stick to the leaf of a plant and gradually break down, the RNA is taken up by the plants where it is processed and used to trigger silencing of the genes of any viruses that invade the cell. The research team showed that a single application of such a spray stopped tobacco plants from contracting the pepper mild mottle virus for as long as 20 days.
FATTY ACIDS FROM GM CROPS COULD REPLACE FISH OIL
Oil from genetically modified (GM) oil seed crops could replace fish oil as a primary source of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid EPA – according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA). Researchers studied the effect in mice of consuming feed enriched with oil from glasshouse-grown genetically engineered Camelina sativa, developed at the Rothamsted Research Centre.
The goal of the research was to discover whether mammals (using mice as a model) can absorb and accumulate EPA from this novel source of omega-3s, and according to a media release, the results showed that the benefits were similar to those derived from fish oils. The long-chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty – acids EPA and DHA are beneficial for cardiovascular and cognitive health amongst other things.
This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and it was published in The Journal of Nutrition.
GM PIGS RESISTANT TO MAJOR INFECTION
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have genetically modified pigs to protect them from Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, according to findings published in the journal PLOS Pathogens. This infection first appeared in the late 1980s, and has since cost the swine industry billions of dollars a year, becoming one of the largest issues facing pig farmers. PRRS kills piglets, causes severe breathing problems in adult pigs and breeding failures in pregnant pigs.
THREE GM POTATOES ACHIEVE FURTHER APPROVALS FOR COMMERCIAL RELEASE
J.R. Simplot announced in February that they had received approvals from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the commercial release of three GM potato varieties. The three varieties have already been deregulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) so they can now be grown and sold in the USA.
The varieties, marketed as INNATE® potatoes, have been modified to reduce bruising and black spots; reduce the presence of the chemical compound asparagine; protect the potatoes from late blight pathogens; and have enhanced cold storage capability.
Simplot estimates that the late blight protection trait alone can result in up to a 50 per cent reduction in fungicide applications annually to control late blight.
GM COWS SHOW INCREASED TB RESISTANCE SAY CHINESE RESEARCHERS
Scientists in China say they have successfully genetically modified (GM) cows that show an increased resistance to TB. Researchers from China’s Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi used gene-editing, and report the GM animals subsequently proved more resistant to TB than unmodified animals. A study describing the findings has been published in the journal Genome Biology.
GM PLANTS THAT USE LIGHT MORE EFFICIENTLY ARE MORE PRODUCTIVE
Researchers from the University of Leeds, report that speeding up a plant’s response to fluctuations in light intensity can enhance its photosynthetic yield, according to a paper published in Science. The authors, who genetically modified tobacco plants to react more rapidly to sudden switches between light and shade, report an approximately 15 per cent improvement in the modified plants’ productivity.
“The paper is a really very nice breakthrough. It’s the first instance where it has been possible to demonstrate that, by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, there is an increase in yield under field conditions,” said University of Leeds plant scientist Christine Foyer. “I would say it’s a game-changer.”
GM CROPS AND THEIR ROLE IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
This article published in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs looks at the contribution GM crops can have in a sustainable and food secure future, particularly for smallholder farmers and rural communities in developing countries.
The author states, “Future food security is hardly possible without tapping into the efficiencies that come with modern plant sciences. If developed and used on a broad scale, GM crops and other new plant-breeding technologies, can increase food production, improve nutritional quality, make plants more resilient to pests and climate shocks, and reduce reliance on chemicals in agricultural practices.”
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.
|A1143||Canola||Nuseed||Omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid production.||New application. Comment period pending.|
|A1138||Rice||International Rice Research Institute||Increased levels of provitamin A in the grain.
|New application. Comment period pending.|
|SPS International Inc||Late blight protection, low acrylamide potential, reduced browning (black spot) and lower reducing sugars.||New application. Comment period pending.|
|Herbicide tolerance||New application. Comment period pending.|
|A1128||Potato||SPS International Inc||Reduced acrylamide potential and reduced browning.||This application was approved by FSANZ in December 2016.|
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 143||Cotton||Bayer CropScience||Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant cotton and cotton with dual herbicide tolerance.||Commercial release application for two cottons approved in December 2016.|
|DIR 145||Cotton||Monsanto Australia Limited||Insect resistant and herbicide tolerant cotton and cotton with tolerance to three herbicides.||Commercial release application of two cottons approved in December 2016.|
|DIR 146||Banana||Queensland University of Technology||Disease resistance to Fusarium wilt disease.||Field trial licence approved in December 2016.|
|DIR 147||Cotton||Monsanto Australia Limited||Insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.||Field trial licence approved in January 2017.|
|DIR 149||Indian Mustard||Nuseed Pty Ltd||Altered oil content.||Field trial licence in February 2017.|
|DIR 150||Potato||Queensland University of Technology||Disease resistance.||Field trial licence granted in February 2017.|
|DIR 151||Wheat||CSIRO||Disease resistance, drought tolerance, altered oil content and altered grain composition.||Field trial licence granted.|
|DIR 152||Wheat and barley||University of Adelaide||Abiotic stress tolerance and yield improvement.
|Field trial licence being sought. A Risk Assessment Risk Management Plan (RARMP) is available for public comment until 07 June 2017.|
|DIR 153||Sorghum||University of Queensland||Modified grain quality traits (increased seed protein content and seed digestibility, increased seed size or number of seeds).||Field trial licence being sought. A Risk Assessment Risk Management Plan (RARMP) is being prepared. A public comment period is expected to open in May 2017.|
|DIR 154||Vaccine for chickens||Bioproperties Pty Ltd||GM vaccine to protect chickens against infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT), which causes significant economic losses in the poultry industry worldwide.||Field trial licence being sought. A Risk Assessment Risk Management Plan (RARMP) is being prepared. A public comment period is expected to open in May 2017.|
NEW CANOLA VARIETY COULD PROVIDE A NEW, LAND-BASED SUSTAINABLE SOURCE OF OMEGA-3
Nufarm subsidiary Nuseed hopes its new variety of genetically modified canola will take the pressure off fish stocks as a source of omega-3.
The new high omega-3 variety, developed in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Grain Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) will soon be assessed by the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and its counterparts in the USA and Canada.
High demand for omega-3 fatty acids puts pressure on fish stocks, and Nuseed hopes a new land-based source will open up a new, land-based source.
AG INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA: BIOTECH POLICY
Ag Institute Australia has updated its ‘Biotechnology and Agricultural Innovation Policy Paper’ which is now available online. According to the policy, the Institute supports, amongst other things, Government support of R&D into biotechnologies, a science-based and transparent regulatory system, individual choice to use approved products, and harmonisation of regulations nationally.
LATEST GM COTTON VARIETY TO BE TRIALED IN THE ORD
According to media reports, the latest GM cotton to be approved for commercial release in Australia, Bollgard III, will be trialed in the Ord Irrigation Scheme this year. Monsanto is in talks with Department of Agriculture Western Australia to secure a trial plot at Kununurra Research Station. The trial will assess how the varieties cope as a wet season crop.
LESS EMOTION, MORE SCIENCE NEEDED IN AGRICULTURE
The newly-appointed Chairman of the Crawford Fund, former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, has called for less emotion and greater scientific focus in critical policy debates such as genetically modified crop access and energy affordability. Mr Anderson is also co-patron of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA).
ZERO TOLERANCE FOR GM CROPS: RETHINK NEEDED
WA Farmers’ grain section president Duncan Young has called for the organic industry in Australia to reconsider its zero tolerance standard to the presence of genetically modified (GM) organisms in organic crops.
Mr Young said the organic industry in Australia should look to GM tolerance standards in other countries. “I think the real issue is the fact that the organic industry needs to re-evaluate their zero status for GM and probably take a leaf out of the book of other countries around the world with their organic industries,” he said.
He cited the example of Canada, saying that they have a tolerance level that is not zero, and different farming systems operate side-by-side and there doesn’t seem to be any issues.
TASMANIA’S DAIRY INQUIRY
In September 2016, a Tasmanian Government Legislative Council Inquiry was established to look at the Tasmanian Dairy Industry, particularly marketing opportunities for the Tasmanian Brand; processing opportunities in Tasmania; and, the role of the Tasmanian Government.
According to media reports, Tasmanian dairy farmers and industry groups do not believe the industry is leveraging enough off the state’s reputation. The inquiry also heard from the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers’ Association (TFGA) about the state’s moratorium on genetically modified food. TFGA dairy council chair Andrew Lester said while being GMO-free did assist with the Tasmanian brand, the state could be missing out on technical advancements made in the industry, for example, GM ryegrass research.
PROFESSOR JAMES DALE DISCUSSES GM BANANA FIELD TRIALS
Professor James Dale, Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, Queensland University of Technology discusses a GM banana field trial approved to take place south of Darwin in a few months after a five-year trial received approval from the gene technology regulator.
SA’S GM CROP MORATORIUM COSTING GROWERS
The SA government’s moratorium on GM crops is hurting the hip pockets of the state’s farmers, according to Grain Producers South Australia chairman Wade Dabinett. He estimates his family has lost $700,000 in income because it does not have the choice to grow the crops it needs to on its farm.
GM FRUIT FLY TRIAL HELD IN WA
The Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) has been working with UK technology company Oxitec to conduct trials of GM Mediterranean fruit flies (Medfly). The GM fruit flies imported from the United Kingdom have shown promise in eradicating the Medfly, a damaging horticultural pest that costs Western Australian producers millions of dollars each year.
Their method works a bit like sterilisation, with a self-limiting gene inserted into male fruit flies that prevents female offspring from reaching adulthood.
DAFWA director of horticulture David Windsor said the trials had proven successful.
“We got the result that we were hoping for,” Dr Windsor said.
Further trials and regulatory testing is required before the GM fruit fly can be implemented into Australia’s horticultural regions.
GM SAFFLOWER NEARING COMMERCIALISATION
A super high oleic safflower (SHOS) developed jointly by CSIRO and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) using RNA interference (RNAi) also known as gene silencing technology, has for the second year in a row shown promising field trial results, showing unprecedented levels of oleic acid.
Michael Kleinig, managing director of GO Resources, the company which will bring the GM safflower to the market, hopes commercial plantings will go ahead in 2018.
Although not a traditional genetically modification (GM) process, the use of RNAi still requires approval from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR).
USDA EXTENDS COMMENT PERIOD FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATION OVERHAUL
In February, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service announced it would be extending the public comment period for the proposed rule to update the USA’s regulations regarding the importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms. The comment period is now open until 19 June 2017.
On 18 January, two days before US President Barack Obama left office, a last-minute draft proposal was released by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from the Obama administration addressing the regulation of CRISPR and other cutting-edge technologies. According to Nature, the most controversial of the three proposed regulations declares that all animals whose genomes have been intentionally altered will be examined for safety and efficacy in a process similar to that for new drugs, as per the current regulatory regime.
Many researchers had hoped that the FDA regulations would be less stringent about evaluating organisms whose genomes have been edited with precise tools than it is for animals that have been given DNA from different species or other less precise methods.
With a new administration at the helm, it remains unclear whether this proposed rule will move forward beyond June, but it is hoped that President Trump will be pro-science when it comes to agricultural biotechnology and new genetic technologies.
GM COWPEA COMING IN GHANA
Ongoing field tests on genetically modified cowpea (Bt cowpea) have produced successful results and the crop will be ready for commercialisation and release onto the local market in 2018 according to Principal Investigator in charge of the research project Dr Mumuni Abdulai. Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria plan to commercialise the GM cowpea variety at the same time.
The GM cowpea is resistant to the destructive pest, Maruca pod-bearer, which can cause losses of more than 50 per cent of all cowpea produced in Ghana alone.
GRAIN PRODUCERS EXPLORING FISH OIL OPTIONS
According to Reuters, the world’s top agricultural traders and biotechnology firms are finding novel ways to make fish oil substitutes from grains and algae as they seek to cash in on consumer health fads that have led to a scarcity of the fatty acids commonly found in fish.
Canola with high Omega-3 oil content is just one example of the research underway in a joint venture between Cargill and BASF SE.
WILD GENES TO HELP COMBAT BLUE MOULD IN APPLE
This article details how new genetic tools are allowing breeders to identify, and fast-track the introduction of key genes from wild ancestors back into commercial apple varieties. For example, genes from a wild Eurasian apple is resistant to blue mould — the most significant postharvest disorder globally – are being bred back into elite breeding parents by scientist at the US Department of Agriculture’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia. The efforts are expected to take years not decades, and final, blue-mould resistant cultivar will have no genetically modified DNA according to the researchers involved.
GM CHICKEN RESEARCH
Researchers from Edinburgh University have used gene editing technology to genetically modify chickens that can lay eggs from different breeds, hoping they may be able to preserve rare chicken breeds that are resistant to global infections like bird flu, or have improved meat quality. The so-called surrogate chickens are the first gene-edited birds to be produced in Europe.
GM SALMON RESEARCH IN NORWAY
The Norwegian Biotechnology Council is considering whether to approve GM salmon developed using gene editing technology according to media reports. The method, which was developed by researchers from the Institute of Marine Research, “edits” the genes of salmon eggs so that the fish does not develop reproductive cells. The method, regarded as genetic modification, requires special approval by the Norwegian law. The GM salmons “taste as good as ordinary salmon and will not be able to spawn with wild salmon if they escape (fish farms),” said Anna Wargelius, the genealogist involved in the project.
“SUPER-YIELDING” GM WHEAT TRIALS TO GO AHEAD
The planting of a new experimental crop of GM wheat will take place this spring after the UK government gave the final go ahead. The GM wheat has been engineered to use sunlight more efficiently and has boosted greenhouse yields by up to 40 per cent. Researchers in Hertfordshire now want to see if they can replicate these gains in the field.
Scientists at Rothamsted Research are working in collaboration with researchers from the University of Essex and Lancaster University on this project.
GM GRAPES AND WINE RESEARCH
This article outlines some of the research underway using biotechnologies to improve grape and wine production. Examples cited include:
- Researchers in the USA have isolated three genes that appear to allow powdery mildew spores to attach and attack wine grapes. Using gene editing, researchers can shut down the functions of genes that can make a powdery mildew attack easier.
- Biotechnology is also being used to create yeast with completely synthetic chromosome; create yeast which expresses a synthetic metabolic pathway to synthesize a raspberry ketone aroma or create vanillin (part of oak-aged red wines); and, to create resveratrol, a compound in red wine that has been touted to have health benefits.
- Also, in the USA, gene editing techniques has been used to increase the levels of resveratrol in wine, and to reduce or even eliminate the hangover effects from drinking wine.
PROMISING STEPS IN HYPO-ALLERGENIC, HIGH-PROTEIN MILK DEVELOPMENT
Researchers from AgResearch in New Zealand are using a technique called gene silencing to develop hypo-allergenic, high-protein milk.
In 2012, the researchers announced the birth of Daisy, a GM calf, who was born with a particular gene turned off, the gene responsible for the production of a particular cow milk protein known to be allergenic – beta-lactoglobulin (BLG). BLG is largely responsible for the allergic reactions two to three per cent of infants have to cow’s milk.
The resulting milk collected from Daisy had no detectable BLG protein and, unexpectedly, also had more than twice the level of the casein proteins that also normally occur in cow’s milk.
Most recently, the researchers, led by Dr Goetz Laible, have successfully proven that Daisy’s genetic trait, is stable and passed down to her offspring.
In New Zealand, The development of GM food products remains highly restricted.
“But you have to start with a first step – and it’s our hope that the results will continue to be promising,” said Dr Laible.
GM APPLES COMING SOON TO US MID-WEST
Arctic Apples has announced its GM non-browning Golden Apples will be available in select USA stores in for test market purposes in 2017 following their first-ever commercial harvest.
Feedback will be sought direct from customers about the product. According to the company’s website, “Arctic® Goldens offer the same nutritional value as the conventional Golden Delicious apple, but do so even better, especially as ready to eat, preservative free slices! Arctic® Golden slices won’t have the off taste that can accompany commonly used anti-browning treatments, so you’ll get 100 per cent fresh apple flavour.”
PINK-FLESHED PINEAPPLE CONSIDERED BY US REGULATOR
The US Food and Drug Administration has evaluated a GM variety of pineapple developed by Del Monte Fresh Produce to have pink flesh, and found that it is as safe and nutritious as its conventional counterparts.
The new pineapple has been modified to produce lower levels of the enzymes already in conventional pineapple that convert the pink pigment lycopene to the yellow pigment beta carotene. Lycopene is the pigment that makes tomatoes red and watermelons pink.
Although the pink pineapple will be marketed and sold in the USA, the company developing the product intends to grow it in Costa Rica.
FARMER SURVEY FINDS GM CROPS ENHANCE PRODUCTION, SUSTAINABILITY
According to a survey of 280 farmers across the USA, GM crops are an important solution to growing crops more efficiently. Undertaken by the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) and National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the survey of farmer attitudes toward GM crops, found that:
- 78 per cent of farmers foresee increased environmental impacts without access to GM crops.
- Most farmers (87 per cent) indicated GM seeds allow them to minimise pesticide/herbicide usage.
- Three quarters of farmers also expressed being able to engage in advanced farming practices, such as conservation tillage.
- Another two-thirds (64 per cent) of farmers also believe GM seeds allow for efficient management of resources, specifically, fuel, time, and less wear-and-tear on their equipment.
US GOVERNMENT ASSESSMENT OF GM LUCERNE, CANOLA AND SUGARBEET USE
An Information Bulletin produced by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service using data from a 2013 survey to analyse the adoption of GM alfalfa, canola and sugarbeets in the USA, has found that:
- GM alfalfa (lucerne) constituted 13 per cent of the 18 million acres of alfalfa harvested in 2013 with a total production value of US$10.7 billion.
- Farmers who planted GM alfalfa had higher yields than farmers who planted conventional seeds. On average 0.53 ton per acre, or 17 per cent higher than the yields of other farmers.
- GM herbicide tolerant canola accounted for 95 per cent of the USA’s 1.3 million canola acres harvested in 2013.
- Approximately 1.2 million acres of sugarbeets, with a production value of US$1.6 billion, were harvested in 2013.
- Over 99 per cent of the harvested sugarbeet acreage was produced using GM herbicide tolerant seeds in 2013.
The publication discusses legal/regulatory issues associated with the commercialisation of these crops, trends in adoption rates, and the economic impacts of adoption.
LATEST CONSUMER SURVEY FOCUSED ON FOOD ISSUES RELEASED IN THE USA
The Pew Research Centre has released its latest survey of 1480 adults nationwide focused on consumer perceptions of food in the USA, particularly organic and GM foods. Findings include:
- 55 per cent of Americans believe organically grown produce is healthier than conventionally grown varieties, while 41 per cent say there is no difference between organic and conventionally grown produce and three per cent say that conventionally grown produce is better.
- Forty per cent of respondents say that most or some of the foods they eat are organic, and three-quarters of these Americans are convinced that organic foods are healthier than conventionally grown foods.
- Thirty-nine per cent of respondents consider GM foods worse for a person’s health than other foods. Compared to 48 per cent of adults who say GM foods are no different from non-GM foods and 10 per cent who say GM foods are better for health.
- Women are more likely than men to care deeply about the issue of GM foods (20 per cent vs. 12 per cent per cent).
- Sixty per cent of respondents say scientists should have a major role in policy issues related to GM foods and 28 per cent say they should have a minor role.
COEXISTENCE BETWEEN GM AND CONVENTIONAL CROPS IN NZ
At a NZ Grasslands Association conference in December, scientists from AgResearch talked about a GM ryegrass they have developed that has a 40 per cent increase in production and a 30 per cent reduction in water demand. The ryegrass has a high metabolisable energy (HME) system that gives it a 20 per cent increase in photosynthesis capability, and it results in ryegrass that animals can eat less of for the same live weight gain. Research also shows that the GM ryegrass has resulted in a 15-23 per cent decrease in methane production by the animals eating it.
“HME could transform farming by reducing its environmental footprint and improving animal productivity”, said AgResearch Grasslands principal plant biotechnology scientist Greg Bryan.
Also at the conference, South Canterbury farmer and national president of Federated Farmers, William Rolleston, delivered a paper titled, ‘Conditions for co-existence of genetic modification in a pasture-based system’, stating that GM and non-GM crops can peacefully co-exist if the right regulatory framework is in place, for example, avoiding cross-contamination by methods already successfully used to ensure certifiable seed purity in non-GM production.
SOYBEAN CYST NEMATODE BREAKTHROUGH
Kansas State University researchers have announced a breakthrough in controlling the spread of the soybean cyst nematode, a parasitic roundworm that costs US soybean growers US$500 million and reduces yields by as much as 75 per cent annually according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Plant geneticist Harold Trick said the university has received a patent for the technology that essentially “silences” specific genes in the nematode by causing it to die or, at the very least, lose the ability to reproduce.
In greenhouse trials, the GM soybean plant has resulted in a reduction of nematode populations by up to 85 per cent, after they feed on the roots of the GM plant.
BIO INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION
Location: San Diego, California, USA
Date: 19-22 June 2017
Details: The BIO International Convention, hosted by the US-based Biotechnology Innovation Organisation, (BIO) attracts 16,000 biotechnology and pharma leaders who come together for one week of intensive networking to discover new opportunities and promising partnerships.
AUSAG & FOODTECH SUMMIT 2017
Location: Adelaide Convention Centre
Date: 29-30 August 2017
Details: The AusAg & Foodtech Summit 2017 translates Australian science into business, putting the spotlight on investment in agritech and foodtech innovation. The Summit, a new event to be held for the first time in 2017, strives to fill a gap among established events in the agritech and foodtech space.
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Date: 25-28 September 2017
Details: Established in 1996, ABIC, the Agricultural Bioscience International Conference is the premier global meeting that promotes innovation in bioscience for sustainable food, feed, fibre and fuel security as the climate changes. By connecting people, ABIC gathers the common themes and the different approaches that participants take to address the common challenge.
SCIENCE PROTECTING PLANT HEALTH
Location: Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
Date: 26-28 September 2017
Details: This international conference is a joint event of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society and the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre. The conference themes will focus on the latest science, research and practice from leaders in their fields encompassing all the disciplines of plant biosecurity, plant pathology and entomology. Recent developments, as well as future advances, will be showcased at this peak event, with presentations by international, national and local speakers.
Location: Adelaide Convention Centre
Date: 25-27 October 2017
Details: AusBiotech’s annual conference will once again bring together Australian and international biotech leaders and stakeholders to address issues critical to the industry. Global biotech trends, breakthroughs, challenges and success stories will feature prominently on the program. Panel discussions and key themes will cover regulation and reimbursement, research translational strategies, new markets, business development and capital access, emerging technologies, clinical trials and commercialisation.
Location: Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre
Date: 20-22 November 2017
Details: TropAg2017, the world’s leading international tropical agriculture conference, is hosted by the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland (UQ), and the conference theme is ‘High impact science to nourish the world’. The program focuses on scientific advances in agriculture, animal, horticulture, crop and food research, and will again feature a number of world-leading keynote speakers.
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.