Quarterly Update – Edition 3
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
NEW CHAIRMAN APPOINTED
ABCA’s Board of Directors formally welcomed Mr Ken Matthews AO as its new Chairman at its meeting this month in Canberra.
Mr Matthews brings to this important role the intellect, leadership and expertise needed to ensure that the Council continues to provide scientific and balanced information to assist the public to understand the current and potential benefits of agricultural biotechnology for the nation’s farming sector.
Mr Matthews joins a strong team of biotechnology and industry leaders on the Board and is supported by ABCA’s Patrons, The Hon John Anderson AO and Professor Adrienne Clarke AC.
A former Secretary of two Australian government departments (agriculture and transport), Mr Matthews has had a lengthy and distinguished career at the top of Australian public administration.
Mr Matthews brings to the role of Chairman of ABCA a wealth of experience in industry, technology and agricultural policy as well as policy on matters that affect regional Australia. His time at the helm of the Department of Agriculture also saw the development of the regulatory framework for agricultural biotechnology.
ABCA’s aim to encourage informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information will greatly benefit from Mr Matthews’ extensive experience.
In 2005, Mr Matthews was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia. He is also an elected fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE) and of the Institute of Public Administration, Australia and the Australian Institute of Management.
The ABCA Board of Directors also thanked and acknowledged outgoing Chairman, Mr Claude Gauchat, who was the Council’s inaugural Chairman and played a crucial role in the establishment of this important organisation of the nation’s agricultural and biotechnology sectors.
NEW COEXISTENCE RESOURCE LAUNCHED
ABCA has developed a mini website focused solely on the topical subject of coexistence.
Diversity of crops and production processes has always been a hallmark of Australian agricultural competitiveness, and it will continue to be so for decades to come. Such competitiveness rests with a broad coalition of farmers and farmer groups, whatever crop or production methods best suits their individual circumstances and the agricultural challenges they face.
This diversity empowers both consumer choice and the quality and value that Australian consumers have come to expect. ABCA supports Australian farmers’ freedom of choice whatever they choose to plant, and this principle extends to those using organic, GM or conventional farming systems.
The online resource also provides background information about the Marsh v. Baxter court case currently underway in Western Australia between an organic farmer and his GM canola-growing neighbour (see more below).
ABCA has issued six Issue Alerts during this period relating to the retraction of the Seralini paper by the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal; the call for a Senate Enquiry into GM food and crop regulations by Nick Xenophon; the court case currently underway between two farming neighbours in WA; ABCA’s new coexistence resource; and the release of the latest global GM crop statistics.
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MARSH V. BAXTER COURT CASE IN WA
The court case between organic farmer Steve Marsh and his neighbour Mick Baxter started in the Supreme Court of Western Australia on 10 February. Mr Marsh is seeking damages from Mr Baxter for losses arising from the presence of GM canola in his organic farming system.
In May 2010 Mick Baxter planted 85 hectares of GM canola on his property in Kojonup following its approval by the WA government. He followed all required procedures, leaving a border area unplanted around his crop (a ‘buffer zone’) and notifying neighbours of his planting. Later that year, Steve Marsh’s organic certification on part of his farm was withdrawn after GM canola was found growing on his property, allegedly from his neighbour, Mick Baxter’s property.
In 2012, Steve Marsh attempted to prevent Mick Baxter from planting GM canola on two of his fields in 2013. In April 2013, the WA Supreme Court ruled that Mr Baxter’s crop was ‘legal and legitimate.’ The judge also accepted that Mr Baxter had good reason to plant the GM variety given problems with weeds encountered on his farm. Mr Baxter agreed to significantly increase the separation distance between his canola crop and the fields of Mr Marsh and he also agreed to change his harvest method from ’swathing’ (the cutting of whole plants) to direct harvest.
Mr Marsh is being supported in his legal action by the Safe Food Foundation.
The court case is expected to last for approximately three weeks and updates from the trial are available from the WA Supreme Court website.
- www.supremecourt.wa.gov.au/_files/Transcript Online from Supreme Court Trial 18 Feb 2014.pdf
ANIMAL FEEDING STUDY RETRACTED
The Food and Chemical Toxicology journal has retracted the article ‘Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize’ published in 2012 by French scientist Gilles-Eric Séralini and his colleagues.
Shortly after the article was originally published, the journal received many letters to the editor expressing concerns about the validity of the findings, the proper use of animals and even allegations of fraud.
The study alleged that GM corn and herbicides caused tumours and organ damage, and led to premature death in laboratory rats, and the findings received considerable global media attention.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), in agreement with food safety regulators globally, rejected the conclusions of the study, finding “On the basis of the many scientific deficiencies identified in the study, FSANZ does not accept the conclusions made by the authors and has therefore found no justification to reconsider the safety of NK603 corn.”
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology’s retraction published on 28 November, states:
The Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.
GM OPPONENTS CALL FOR ANOTHER SENATE ENQUIRY
South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon and the Safe Food Foundation have called for another Senate Inquiry into the impact of GM foods in Australia and they have started a petition to garner support for their cause.
Both Senator Xenophon’s and the Safe Food Foundation’s media releases cast aspersions on the efficacy of the regulatory system for agricultural biotechnology and call for an overhaul of the entire regulatory regime.
CropLife Australia has welcomed an inquiry, if genuine in its nature, on the basis that it would affirm public confidence in the regulatory system and provide an opportunity for the official record to reflect the significant agronomic and environmental benefits GM cotton and canola have brought to Australian farmers.
TASMANIA’S GM CROP BAN INDEFINITE
On 9 January 2014, the Tasmanian Government announced that it would be maintaining the moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs to the Tasmanian environment indefinitely.
In late 2013, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) sought public submissions and undertook a review of the moratorium on GMOs in Tasmania. The review attracted 160 public submissions.
The moratorium will continue to include exemptions for non-commercial scientific trials of GM crops and a panel of scientists will report to the Government yearly on advances in the field.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers’ Association says the Government’s statement on the state’s GMO moratorium is “at best confusing and at worst potentially disastrous for future investment and jobs growth in the state.”
CropLife Australia said it was “disappointed to see a decision like this being made against the weight of scientific and economic evidence.”
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ELECTION
The South Australian state election will be held on Saturday 15 March 2014. An official ban on commercial GM crop production in SA is in place until 2019 despite crop biotechnology having bipartisan support in Canberra.
USA – COMMENT PERIOD ON COMMERCIAL RELEASE OF GM APPLE EXTENDED
The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service extended the public comment period by one month for the plant pest risk assessment and draft environmental assessment for the commercial release of a GM browning-resistant apple. The extended consultation period ended on 30 January.
The development of this GM apple is significant because it is moving away from the dominant farmer-focused broadacre GM crop improvements to a consumer-oriented modification, and apples are a staple fruit in many Western diets.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the developers of the GM apple, state on their website that it will take the USDA at least a couple months to finalise their EA (Environmental Assessment) and prepare a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) for Arctic apples. According to the company, the USDA received around 5,000 submissions.
The website developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits (www.arcticapples.com) is very informative and provides a good communication model for GM commodities of the future. It is transparent, addresses key concerns and keeps the public informed at every stage of the development and regulatory process.
NORTH AMERICA – GM SALMON
In November, Environment Canada announced that the fast-growing GM salmon developed by Aquabounty Technologies is not harmful to the environment or human health when produced in contained facilities.
This finding by Environment Canada means that AquaBounty’s hatchery, which produces sterile, all-female eggs, is no longer solely a research facility but can produce eggs on a commercial scale without harm to the environment or human health.
This is a significant step in the commercialisation of the GM salmon, the first GM food animal anywhere in the world, however approvals for food use remain pending in both Canada and the USA.
The move clears the way for AquaBounty to scale up production of the salmon at its sites on Prince Edward Island in Canada and in Panama in anticipation of eventual approval by American authorities.
“We are pleased to note that, after a rigorous examination of our hatchery facility and the Standard Operating Procedures used to produce AquAdvantage Salmon (AAS) eggs, Environment Canada is satisfied that we can responsibly produce our sterile, all-female eggs on a commercial scale”, said Ron Stotish, AquaBounty CEO.
“This is a significant milestone in our efforts to make AAS available for commercial production.”
LATEST GLOBAL GM CROP STATISTICS RELEASED
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), has released the annual GM crop area statistics showing more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted GM crops in 2013 across 175.2 million hectares, a three per cent increase from 2012.
The report highlights the role of GM crops in contributing to sustainable agricultural production by:
- Contributing to food, feed and fiber security and self sufficiency, including more affordable food, by increasing productivity and economic benefits sustainably at the farmer level
- Conserving biodiversity, biotech crops are a land saving technology
- Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger
- Reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint
- Helping mitigate climate change and reducing greenhouse gases
According to ISAAA, “The most compelling and credible testimony to biotech [GM] crops is that during the 18 year period 1996 to 2013, millions of farmers in ~30 countries worldwide, elected to make more than 100 million independent decisions to plant and replant an accumulated hectarage of more than 1.6 billion hectares. This is an area equivalent to >150 per cent the size of the total land mass of the US or China which is an enormous area. There is one principal and overwhelming reason that underpins the trust and confidence of risk-averse farmers in biotechnology – biotech crops deliver substantial, and sustainable, socio-economic and environmental benefits.”
AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGIES AND FOOD SECURITY
The International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) report titled Food Security in a World of Growing Natural Resources Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies, measured the impacts of agricultural innovation on farm productivity, prices, hunger, and trade flows to 2050 and identifies practices that could significantly benefit developing nations.
The study profiles 11 agricultural innovations: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting.
The report concludes in part, “The technologies with the highest percentage of potential impact for agriculture in developing countries include no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects, and diseases.”
A new online resource launched this month aims to highlight the broad-based and growing constituency of interest in GM crops in Europe. Readers will be able to access information from trade and innovation to food security and the environment. Perspectives from politicians, young people, consumers and farmers are also available.
The website is a EuropaBio initiative. EuropaBio is the European Association for Bioindustries, bringing together bioscience companies from all fields of research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology products.
THE PROMISE OF GMOS
An article by Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus of Food Science at the University of Illinois and Wayne Parrott, Professor of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia, outlines the GMO experience to-date and the promise biotechnology holds to meet future food needs safely and effectively.
Key points include:
- GMOs are now lumped together in the consumer’s mind with other foods that have been vilified rightly or wrongly.
- A major problem surrounding GM crops is that most people don’t understand what GM crops really are, and what they do know is often misinformation, which circulates widely in social media as well as in the mainstream media.
- Ingredients derived from GM soybean, canola, and corn (for examples, oils, starch, protein fractions, lecithin and others) are used in many food products, as is sugar from sugar beet. It is estimated that at least 70 per cent of processed food products in the United States have ingredients derived from GM crops.
- The first GM crops were planted in 1994, and statistics have been collected since 1996. Approximately 10 per cent of the world’s agricultural fields are now planted with GM crops. There is an abundance of information on how these crops have done in the real world. The dire consequences, such as the cancer epidemics predicted by Greenpeace have not materialised.
- GM crops have increased harvests by decreasing losses to pests, decreased input and labor costs, reduced the impact from agrichemical use, helped conserve soil and water resources, and conferred a number of environmental and sustainability gains.
- From a food technology perspective, GM technology to improve color, flavor, nutrition, and other consumer-desirable traits is only now beginning to reach the marketplace.
- National and international expert panels around the globe have repeatedly concluded that it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to meet the food and agricultural needs of future generations without the use of all available technologies.
- All plant breeding depends on genetic modification. Genetic engineering is the most precise and predictable of the available breeding methods, which produces the fewest unintended and potentially undesirable changes into plants.
- At this moment many consumers trust the activists on the issue of GM safety more than they do the food industry. The food industry needs to invest time, resources, and energy to explain GM technology, why the world needs GM crops, and the food industry’s commitment to safety and sustainability.
To read the full article (paid access only):
COSMOS MAGAZINE – ISSUE 55: FOOD WARS
The latest edition of Cosmo Magazine focuses on the theme of coexistence; the tension between science and activists; and the future food needs of the plant.
Articles available for purchase:
NEW COMPREHENSIVE GM CONTENT TEST
Chinese researchers have developed the first comprehensive test to detect GM content in food. The test, termed MACRO, short for “multiplex amplification on a chip with readout on a microarray”, combines two well-known genetic methods to flag about 97 per cent of the known commercialised genetic modifications globally, almost twice as many as other tests. It also can be easily expanded to include future GM crops.
The specifics of the test have been reported in the American Chemical Society’s journal Analytical Chemistry.
FARMING INTO THE FUTURE: BIOTECHNOLOGY AND YOUR FARM
Location: Merredin Regional Community and Leisure Centre
Date: 9am – 1pm. 14 March 2014
Details: WAFarmers and the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) invite all farmers to attend a free farmer information briefing on technological developments in farming. The forum will feature a range of industry speakers discussing issues relating to biotechnology and cropping, including Professor Mike Jones from Murdoch University and genetics and breeding expert Professor Ian Edwards from Edstar Genetics. The forum aims to increase knowledge of current and future markets, agronomic potential and supply chain considerations for current and present biotechnology products and the science and practicalities behind coexistence. Experts will discuss issues including the science behind biotechnology crops, production and agronomy considerations, legislation and regulation in Australia, storage and handling considerations and domestic and international marketing considerations. The event is free to attend and includes lunch and refreshments, followed by a public grains meeting from 2pm to 5pm. Registrations are essential.
Contact: WAFarmers on (08) 9486 2100 or [email protected] to register.
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.