Quarterly Update – Edition 2
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
Council members welcomed GrainGrowers as the newest member of the Council.
Including ABCA’s four founding members, AusBiotech Ltd, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), and CropLife Australia, ABCA’s membership now extends to:
- Ag Institute of Australia
- Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF)
- Australian Seed Federation (ASF)
- Cotton Australia
- Grain Trade Australia (GTA)
- Science and Technology Australia (STA)
To view ABCA’s Council Member profiles and their biotechnology positions, please click here.
GM ‘FARMING THE FUTURE’ FORUM IN PERTH
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) of Western Australia recently held a forum which aimed to boost grower and consumer understanding of GM crops. This event was sponsored by ABCA and supported by GRDC and CropLife to provide up-to-date information on this important topic for the Australian grains industry to growers and consumers. Speakers included former Chief Scientist of Australia Professor Jim Peacock, CSIRO Plant Industry Chief John Manners, and former InterGrain Chief Executive Officer Bryan Whan.
Speakers outlined the success of the GM cotton story in Australia; the importance of biotechnology applications in research and development; some exciting prospects in the pipeline including canola with a healthier oil profile and rust-resistant wheat; and some coexistence experiences from overseas.
Image 1: (left to right) Former InterGrain Chief Executive Officer Bryan Whan, Nuffield Scholarship recipient Jemma Sadler, PGA Western Graingrowers Chairman John Snooke and Kojonup Agricultural Supplies Manager Ken Stan-Bishop at the recent gene technology forum in Perth.
RISK COMMUNICATION WORKSHOP
Representatives of the agricultural biotechnology sector gathered in Melbourne this month to discuss new theories and methods for communicating about risk. The workshop, run by Asia Biobusiness and the Centre for Risk Communication Australasia in conjunction with ABCA, provided an important forum for leaders of the sector to discuss best practice for communicating about new technologies.
Image 2: Attendees at the risk communication workshop held in Melbourne this month.
ABCA now has the capacity to address GM food and crop issues as they arise to keep subscribers up-to-date with the latest agricultural biotechnology developments.
The first Issue Alert was distributed in October and addressed a UK-based misinformation campaign challenging the scientific consensus on GM foods and crops (see below).
ABCA COUNCIL MEETING
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) met in September 2013.
Members agreed that it is vital that public policy is based on the best available science, and that it is a key role of the Council 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 farmers. Accordingly, the Council committed to supporting projects to better equip the sector in communicating the science behind agricultural biotechnology.
The Council noted that research indicates there is a significant knowledge deficit among key decision makers about the established science on agricultural biotechnology, and agreed to support the Board to commission targeted projects that serve to address those knowledge gaps.
- Communique 3 – https://www.abca.com.au/about/communique/
MISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN CHALLENGING THE SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS ON GM
In October, ABCA issued an Issue Alert about a campaign launched to promote a statement from 85 academics claiming there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety. The statement flies in the face of the consensus of an overwhelming majority of scientists. Every legitimate scientific organisation that has examined the evidence has arrived at the conclusion that approved GM crops and the foods they produce pose no risk to human health or the environment beyond those posed by their conventional counterparts.
CLAIMS ABOUT YIELD AND PESTICIDE USE DATA
According to the latest media release from the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation, GM crops are lower yielding than non-GM crops and they have led to an increase in overall pesticide use.
In relation to the yield claims, the data used in the above study has been questioned because the authors used figures from 1986 when GM crops were not commercially available until 1996. This fact changes the conclusions that can be drawn significantly.
In relation to the pesticide use, UK-based PG Economics, which publishes economic and environmental impact studies around the use of GM crops each year, found that “crop biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying (1996-2011) by 474 million kg (-9 per cent). This is equal to the total amount of pesticide active ingredient applied to arable crops in the EU 27 for one and three-quarter crop years. As a result, this has decreased the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on the area planted to GM crops by 18.1 per cent.”
PG Economics reports that the environmental gains from the GM insect resistant crops have resulted from the decreased use of insecticides, whilst the gains from GM herbicide tolerant crops are the result of both the use of more environmentally benign products and changes in farming systems to reduced and no tillage production systems in both North and South America.”
REGULATORY MILESTONE REACHED
The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) recently announced that after 12 years of regulating gene technology research in Australia it has issued the 100th licence for dealings involving intentional release (DIR) of a genetically modified organism (GMO).
Since 2001, over 20 000 applications and notifications have been processed by the OGTR, including over 500 licences for laboratory-based research.
Most DIR licences that have been issued are for limited and controlled field trials of new GM crops. They have included trials with crops as diverse as cotton, canola, wheat, barley, pineapple, sugarcane and bananas. There have also been DIR licences for commercially growing crops such as cotton and canola.
OGTR COST RECOVERY TO BE EXPLORED
In the May 2013 budget, the Commonwealth Government announced funding for the assessment and development of a cost recovery model for services provided by the Gene Technology Regulator. The model is to be considered by Government in 2014-15, at which time a decision will be made as to whether and how cost recovery is to be implemented.
During the coming months, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing will be assessing options for cost recovery of OGTR operations. This will include, with assistance from the OGTR, analysis of OGTR activities and the sector that it regulates, together with the development of potential cost recovery models. This work will involve preparation of a Cost Recovery Impact Statement (CRIS) and extensive stakeholder consultation.
INNOVATION INVESTMENTS PROGRAM
The GRDC Innovation Investment program is seeking applications in February (and again in August). The Innovation Investment Program is designed to capture ideas and concepts from any field that has the potential to improve the Australian grains industry.
Investments by the GRDC of up to $150,000 per project are available for short-term, proof-of-concept type projects.
In the past, a number of initial concepts for research projects originated from well outside the usual scope of agricultural research, from engineering to nanotechnology, medicine to backyard inventors; the Innovation Investment program aims to draw on the broader field of invention and innovation to solve our most intractable issues.
Applications are sought from private or public organisations as well as individuals, including potential co-investments with private companies.
STRENGTHENING AGRICULTURAL COEXISTENCE IN THE USA
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will soon be seeking public input on how coexistence measures might be strengthened in the US in response to recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21).
In a media release, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “We are asking all those with a vested interest in coexistence to help us learn more about what coexistence means to them, how they are already contributing to it, and what more is needed to achieve coexistence. With this input, we can continue the dialogue begun by the AC21 group and find practical solutions that will help all sectors of American agriculture be successful.”
Coexistence is defined by the USDA as the concurrent cultivation of crops produced through diverse agricultural systems including traditionally produced, organic, identity preserved, and GM.
The media release states, “The USDA supports all forms of agriculture and wants each sector to be as successful as possible providing products to markets in the United States and abroad.”
USA – COMMENT PERIOD ON COMMERCIAL RELEASE OF GM APPLE BEGINS
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is seeking public comment on its environmental and plant risk assessment documents for the Arctic Golden Delicious and Arctic Granny Smith apples modified to be non-browning by Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.
APHIS will only consider comments on the documents as to whether the apples are likely to pose environmental and plant pest risks, not general comments on genetically modified organisms. The APHIS documents say risks are unlikely and the environmental assessment recommends approval.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits hopes to gain USDA approval and approval in Canada in early 2014.
On Monday 23 September, ABC’s Q&A program featured environmentalist David Suzuki. Several of Australia’s leading gene technology scientists were in the audience and posed questions.
Professor Rick Roush asked: After 16 years of experience and 10 per cent of the world’s cropland planted annually by more than 12 million farmers, every major scientific organisation in the world has agreed that commercialised GM crops are safe for food and the environment. The European Commission concludes that GM crops have been adopted rapidly by farmers globally because of reduced production costs, reduced use of toxic pesticides, increases in yield, and net economic benefits to farmers. Herbicide tolerant crops have in particular, reduced tillage, erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. After all of this, what scientific evidence in particular supports your concerns about GM crops and foods?
Professor Jim Dale stated: My research group works on bananas and primarily on genetic modification of bananas. Our major project is to develop bananas with high levels of pro-vitamin A targeted at alleviating vitamin A deficiency in East Africa where cooking bananas are a staple. We have already achieved more than our target levels of pro-vitamin A using a banana gene, a gene from a banana that naturally has high levels of pro-vitamin A. We don’t think this is bad science. In fact we think it is good science which should result in a very significant humanitarian benefit.
To read the transcript:
THE CONVERSATION – FEATURING RICK ROUSH AND DAVID TRIBE
Professor Rick Roush and Dr David Tribe, co-authored an article on The Conversation titled, For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease, criticising the anti-science movement for putting lives at risk.
“Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features. Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism…They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments…These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.”
BACKGROUND BRIEFING ON GM: ABC’S RADIO NATIONAL
This program aired on 15 September 2013, and it is introduced on the ABC website as: “Health and safety fears have restricted the growth of genetically modified foods for decades. But is a hungry world, a new generation of consumers, and the weight of scientific evidence loosening the grip of the Frankenfoods curse? Ian Walker set aside his long standing antipathy towards GM foods to investigate.” Guests on the program discuss GM food safety, consumer perceptions of GM foods, the potential of the technology, the opposition to the technology, and coexistence.
Download the 40-minute program:
GLOBAL MAIL SPECIAL ON GM
The online news site, The Global Mail, featured a special on GM foods and crops, Food fights – how GM got up in your grill. It explored the GM foods and ingredients available in the food chain; consumer perceptions of GM applications; coexistence and a case study about Uganda’s introduction of GM foods and crops.
USA – GM ANIMAL REGULATORY PROCESS UNWORKABLE
A series of papers published in the US Food and Drug Law Institute’s Food and Drug Policy Forum about the regulatory process surrounding the GM salmon currently seeking commercial approval in North America has concluded that no product could withstand this level of non-science-based scrutiny.
According to a news article, three respected scientists with long US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relationships find the process used by the US FDA to regulate products from GM animals so rigorous that it goes far beyond the legally required scientific analysis of food and environmental safety. The scientists state that the scrutiny required by this process forces the agency to respond to non-science-based claims and fall victim to political interference.
The paper also re-confirms early scientific findings about the safety of the GM salmon, stating it “is as safe as food from conventional salmon” and that these salmon “will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States… when grown and produced under the conditions of use for the proposed action.”
The authors make policy recommendations to help protect the USFDA from non-science-based meddling in the future. These recommendations include, maintaining and strengthening a science-based regulatory review system for the evaluation of GE animals and imposing finite response times for agency decisions at each point in the evaluation process to provide developers and investors with a predictable regulatory timeline.
GM WHEAT TRIAL EXTENDED IN THE UK
The UK Government’s Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has granted approval for Rothamsted Research to extend GM wheat field trials. In 2011 Defra authorised Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire to plant its GM aphid-resistant wheat in spring 2012 and 2013. The GM wheat produces a naturally occurring pheromone that not only repels aphids, but also attracts their natural enemies, such as ladybirds and wasps.
Currently, a significant proportion of the UK wheat crop is treated with chemical insecticides to control cereal aphids, which reduce yields by sucking sap from the plants and transmitting barley yellow dwarf virus.
Defra said extending the trial will enable further data to be obtained on the performance of GM wheat later in the season, under different weather conditions and against different aphid populations. The field trials were targeted by anti-GM activists last year.
NEW PLANT BREEDING TECHNIQUES AND THE REGULATORY APPROACH
Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), hosted a technical workshop on new plant-breeding techniques being used in research globally last year and recently released a report of the workshop proceedings.
The world’s food regulatory agencies must decide whether to regulate any foods produced from these new techniques as GM foods prior to their commercialisation in the future.
The main purpose of the workshop was to enhance FSANZ’s understanding of the techniques and food products derived from the new plant breeding techniques. Experts were asked to provide their scientific opinion on whether the derived foods should be regarded as GM or not.
In considering whether to regulate the food derived from each of the six techniques listed below in the same way as GM foods, the workshop participants arrived at the following conclusions.
|Technique||Food regulatory approach|
|Cisgenesis/intragenesis||Regard as a GM food.|
|GM rootstock grafting||Regard as a GM food – food produced using GM rootstock grafting may contain novel GM material and/or have altered characteristics as a result of the genetic modification to the rootstock.|
|Oligo-directed mutagenesis||Not regarded as GM food – food produced using oligo-directed mutagenesis and zinc-finger nuclease technology, where the techniques are used to introduce small, site-specific mutations involving only one or a few nucleotides, would be similar to food produced using traditional mutagenic techniques.|
|Reverse breeding||Inconclusive due to a lack of detailed technical information. However commercial applications using this technique are not expected in the immediate future.|
|Zinc-finger nuclease technology||Regard as a GM food – food produced using zinc-finger nuclease technology (where it is used for targeted gene addition or replacement) would be similar to food produced using standard transgenic techniques.|
|Seed production technology||Not regarded as a GM food – as a genetic separation exists between an early GM ancestor and the non-GM parents of the final food-producing line, which does not contain the genetic modification.|
FSANZ is in the process of evaluating these suggestions to see if any changes to their safety assessment approach are warranted.
Read the full workshop report at:
FAO GM FOODS PLATFORM
A new global GM food resource developed by the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s (FAO), called the GM Foods Platform, has been launched recently in Rome.
The FAO GM Foods Platform is described as a simple online platform to share information on safety assessment of foods derived from GM plants authorised in accordance with the international Codex Alimentarius Commission which develops harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.
The GM Foods Platform will also facilitate the effective utilisation of food safety assessment in situations of Low Level Presence (LLP) or adventitious presence of GM plant materials in food.
At the launch, Australia’s food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) was highly praised for contributing sophisticated and detailed GM food assessments to the platform’s database.
JOURNAL ARTICLE – THE WORLD OF “GM-FREE”
This journal article investigates the world of GM-free and what it means in practical, legal and consumer perception terms.
“The rapid global development of agricultural production systems using GM crops has been paralleled by the growth of attempts to keep at least a part of the world’s agriculture and food as free from GM-crops and their products as possible. The ideal for some proponents of such “GM-free” activity would be a total absence, usually styled “zero content”; others, perhaps more realistically, opt for a definition usually not precisely defined that allows for minimal trace levels of GM material. The reasons for wanting “GM-free” agriculture and its products are varied…With such a variety of motivations, and in the absence of legal rulings, the definitions of “GM-free” vary according to inclination and circumstances. Whatever the precise meaning, the maintenance of a “GM-free” product stream in a world where GM crop production is widespread requires the establishment of identity preservation and segregation systems in which traceability and testing are cornerstones. Inevitably these have cost implications for the supply chain and/or the ultimate consumer.”
Available for purchase at:
JOURNAL COMMENTARY – ANIMAL TESTING NOT NEEDED FOR GM CROPS
Scientists from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have published a commentary in the Plant Biotechnology Journal which dismisses the need for long-term feeding studies of whole GM foods to rats to assess their safety.
This follows the widely-criticised animal feeding study undertaken by French scientists which claimed increased cancer rates in rats fed GM herbicide tolerant corn. The study was found scientifically lacking in many areas, including the use of a rat strain with a well-known spontaneous occurrence of mammary tumours in female rats, the small number of animals used in the various test groups and the use of unconventional statistical methods.
The commentary concludes, “current approaches for the safety and nutritional assessment of foods/feed derived from GM plants as developed by national and international bodies like OECD, FAO/WHO, and EFSA, have proven to be proportionate and fit for purpose. They allow flexibility and facilitate the inclusion of the latest scientific insights and … there is no need for additional requirements.”
The authors are also critical of recent moves by the EU to require routine testing of food/feed derived from GM plants in 90-day studies, stating, “[such requirements are] not based on sound science but rather satisfies political agendas of some regulatory agencies which are of the view that issues, other than scientific ones, need to be taken into account … it is remarkable that such pseudo-scientific arguments are introduced into the scientific risk assessment process in the EU. It discredits both the sound scientific risk assessment approaches developed for GM foods and the risk assessors involved.”
Moves to subject animals to unnecessary feeding trials also contradict EU Commission policies to replace animal tests with alternative methods, refine methods to reduce pain and distress of animals and reduce the number of animals wherever possible, according to the paper.
No country in the world currently requires routine long-term feeding trials to assess GM food safety. In Australia, the food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), does not require that GM foods be tested in animals because:
“FSANZ considers that a scientifically-informed comparative assessment of GM foods with their conventional counterparts can generally identify any potential adverse health effects or differences requiring further evaluation. In the majority of circumstances, animal toxicity studies with whole foods are not likely to contribute any further useful information to the safety assessment and are therefore not warranted.
The commentary is available for purchase at:
NEW GM FOOD INGREDIENTS INFORMATION SOURCE
The American Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has launched a new website designed to provide consumers, policymakers and the media with answers to their questions about the use of GM food ingredients.
The site allows consumers to research and verify the safety, prevalence and benefits of GM food ingredients via information from credible and independent sources, including governmental food safety agencies, medical and health organisations, news organisations, food safety experts and non-governmental organisations including the US Food & Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the US Department of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences.
GM CROPS ALREADY A FOCUS FOR NEXT SA ELECTION
According to media reports, whichever party forms government in South Australia following the state election in March next will maintain a moratorium on GM crops until 2019.
However, the main grain growing group in South Australia disagrees with the decision, and wants to see GM crops allowed into the state.
Darren Arney, from Grain Producers SA, says that growers should have the right to choose what they grow, and he’s questioned whether there’s a price premium available to canola growers.
In an interview with the ABC, Government Minister Leon Bignell said the state’s GM-free status gave primary producers a competitive advantage in key overseas markets.
The Opposition said it too would ensure there was a ban on GM crop until at least 2019 if it took office next March. But Opposition agriculture spokesman David Ridgeway said a ban needed regular review to ensure restrictions on growing GM crops did not put local farmers at a disadvantage.
MONSANTO WILL NO LONGER PURSUE GM IN EUROPE
Monsanto has announced that it will no longer pursue approvals for the cultivation of new GM crops in Europe, but it will continue to focus on enabling imports of approved GM crops into the EU (a huge importer of GM grains).
Monsanto’s business in Europe is almost entirely conventional seeds. Monsanto will be investing several hundred million dollars in Europe over a decade to expand conventional seed production and breeding.
COMING SOON – FARMING THE FUTURE FORUMS
ABCA is supporting a series of Farming the Future Forums in Western Australia and South Australia to be held in the coming months as part of ABCA’s objective to provide the Australian farming sector with the most up‐to-date, balanced, useful information on access, adoption and developments in the field of agricultural biotechnology. Locations and details to be confirmed.
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.