Quarterly Update – Edition 6
- Council activity
- Key issues
- In the pipeline
- For information
FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Much has been achieved in agricultural biotechnology this year. The global area dedicated to GM crops reached more than 175 million hectares across 27 countries, enabling 18 million farmers to access more environmentally friendly farming practices while gaining clear improvements to productivity and income; a significant study re-confirmed the safety of GM animal feed once and for all; new improved techniques and products continue to be advanced in laboratories globally, and, two key products have recently been commercially approved in the USA, an easier-to-digest animal feed (lucerne) and a GM potato with consumer health benefits.
Locally, more than 1300 canola growers on the East coast reported positive experiences with GM canola, and a 55 per cent increase in canola seed sales nationally reflected this sentiment and the benefits GM canola offers on-farm; the next generation of GM cotton in Australia (Bollgard III) was approved for commercial release; and growers retained the right to choose the farming method which best suits their needs following a landmark court case in WA.
Challenges and opportunities remain. Growers in South Australia and Tasmania are still unable to access the technologies afforded to their grain-growing counterparts in the other states; international trade issues around the low-level presence of GM crops and foods approved in some countries but not others will continue to be addressed; and regulatory regimes overseas, including the European Union, continue to be modified to list just a few.
Internationally, 2015 promises to be fruitful. We may see the approval of the long-awaited Golden Rice, which offers so much for those living with vitamin A deficiency in rice-dependent developing countries. The progress of GM salmon in the aquaculture field and GM apples in North America in horticulture will also be closely followed. I have no doubt that agricultural biotechnology will continue to make major differences for those living off the land around the world.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and restful Christmas break with family and friends and a rewarding and successful 2015.
ABCA’S YEAR IN REVIEW
The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) has had a busy and successful second year of operation, providing factual information about GM crops based on credible, scientific evidence to encourage a rational debate. Some of the key highlights include:
- In March, ABCA launched The Official Australian Reference Guide to Agricultural Biotechnology and GM Crops at the 14th Annual Science Meets Parliament event in Canberra. The Guide provides factual, science-based information to contribute to a more informed national discussion about agricultural technologies and has proven to be a very popular resource.
- The topic of coexistence in farming has been front and centre this year and ABCA has contributed to the public discourse with the launch of a dedicated website on the importance of coexistence. The freedom for farmers to choose to farm using whatever method they prefer is beneficial to all – farmers and consumers alike.
- ABCA’s Chairman Ken Matthews presented at the NSW Farmers’ Association Annual Conference in Sydney earlier this year, and at the recent National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) National Congress, addressing farmers, rural policy and decision makers from across Australia about the importance of advocating for biotechnology applications both available now, and being developed for the future.
- A number of ‘Farming into the Future’ forums have been sponsored by ABCA in WA to provide information to farmers who are interested in learning about GM crops. High-profile speakers including academics and industry executives covered topics such as the science behind GM crops and the necessary information to grow them such as storage and handling considerations, legislation and regulation and domestic and international market considerations.
It is a significant challenge to encourage informed debate about biotechnology and to ensure that the public policy and regulatory environment is guided by scientifically credible and factually correct information and ABCA looks forward to continuing its efforts in 2015.
The ABCA Council is a forum for member organisations to discuss local and international emerging issues, and review current ABCA initiatives. ABCA does not advocate but exists to provide the public, particularly farmers, with credible, balanced, science-based information on biotechnology, in order to enable them to make informed decisions about the application, uses and future of gene technology in Australia. The Council helps ensure that resources are relevant and made available in a timely manner in order that public debate is informed.
The September Council meeting featured Joe Smith, the retired Regulator for the OGTR, who presented his reflections on his time as the Regulator and reinforced the importance of an industry voice through organisations such as ABCA.
Two new members have recently joined the Council. ABCA welcomes to the Council the South Australia Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).
The December Council meeting saw a continued focus on the emerging issues for the industry such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Low Level Presence and other local and international policy and regulatory discussions that have the potential to impact Australian primary producers
ABCA ADDRESSES NATIONAL FARMERS’ FEDERATION (NFF) CONGRESS
ABCA Chair, Mr Ken Matthews AO, addressed the NFF Congress on Making the most of Agricultural Biotechnology Opportunities. Mr Matthews outlined benefits to growers form the adoption of GM cotton and canola, and highlighted the potential of GM crops in the pipeline. Mr Matthews also drew attention to the need for there to be more grower voices speaking positively about the benefits biotechnology brings them. Mr Matthews’ presentation generated significant activity on social media channels covering the Congress.
AG AND FOOD BIOTECH SYMPOSIUM
ABCA recently sponsored a session at the “Agriculture & Food Biotechnology Symposium – Where is Australia’s Global Niche?” hosted by AusBiotech on the Gold Coast. The session titled, “Second generation crops for sustainable agriculture” was officiated by ABCA’s Chair, Ken Matthews, and the speakers included Prof Frikkie Botha, Executive Manager – Research, Sugar Research Australia; Mike Jones, Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology, Murdoch University and David Hudson, Managing Director, SGA Solutions Pty Ltd
The October 2014 edition of AusBiotech’s Journal Australasian Biotechnology covers presentations from the Symposium in some detail.
ANALYSING THE CAPACITY AND CAPABILITY OF THE AUSTRALIAN AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY
The results of the ABCA capacity and capability survey indicate the Australian plant and animal biotechnology sectors are part of a robust and vibrant agricultural biotechnology industry. The industry is dominated by the plant biotechnology sector, which has already commercially released insect and herbicide-tolerant cotton (1996) and herbicide-tolerant canola (2008). In addition it has a pipeline of first, second and third-generation-trait products under development within the pathway-to-market pipeline.
While the animal biotechnology sector has only recently received similar levels of investment and attention to the plant biotechnology sector, it has rapidly expanded the range of products and projects within the pathway-to-market pipeline.
Since the last review of the Australian plant and animal biotechnology sectors during 2007, each of the sectors has continued to expand and develop both in terms of i) the scope of the products and/or research projects within the pathway-to-market pipeline, and ii) the depth and breadth of the industry’s capabilities, capacity, infrastructure and level of investment.
The level of growth experienced in the plant and animal sectors is in part due to the increasing number of collaborations and partnerships between public sector institutions and private sector multinational companies who are seeking to access traits of interest and technologies they can incorporate into a range of crops and animals.
Despite the positive developments and outlook for Australia’s plant and animal biotechnology sectors a number of barriers still exist, which need to be addressed by government in collaboration with the agricultural biotechnology industry.
GM CANOLA UPTAKE
ABCA’s news page now features an item on the uptake of GM canola across Australia. The information provides a state-by-state breakdown of the uptake of GM canola from 2009 to 2014 (by hectares planted and by percentage of farming per state). The figures were sourced from the Australian Oilseeds Federation and Monsanto Australia.
NEWS BITES LAUNCHED
In October, ABCA launched its latest communication initiative, New Bites, which is a weekly summary of national and international agricultural biotechnology media coverage. Distributed each Friday the resource has received good feedback and a number of new contacts have been added to the email list by request. If you know of anyone who may like to receive News Bites, please encourage them to contact ABCA via email to subscribe.
FOLLOW ABCA ON TWITTER
ABCA is on twitter at @info_ABCA.
PGA, WA FARMERS AND GIWA ALIGNED ON REPEAL OF WA GM CROP MORATORIUM
Key grower groups in Western Australia are united in their support for the repeal of the State Government’s Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003.
In a recent media release, PGA Western Graingrowers Chairman John Snooke called for the WA Government to repeal the redundant GM Free Crop Areas Act to provide the grains industry with the certainty needed to increase investment in WA’s most valuable agricultural export.
“The WA farming community has shown that GM canola is a safe crop that provides numerous benefits to farmers, including superior weed control, increased yields and early sowing capability,” he said.
“Segregating non-GM from GM canola is no different to segregating other crops like wheat or barley and our export markets, whether in Japan, Europe or the Middle East now have the same choice in commodities as growers now have in production systems.”
The WAFarmers Grains Council has also provided support for repealing the legislation, and the Grains Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA) support the repeal in order to reduce government regulation and red tape and provide for lower cost adoption pathways for GM crops, while still providing for health and environmental concerns to be met and security and market choice to consumers.
Adding their voice to the mix, a group of Western Australian grain growers have formed a ‘pro GM’ group, claiming farmers in the Great Southern Shire of Williams have embraced GM technology and rely on it to remain internationally competitive into the future. In a media report, grain producer Lewis Johnston said he’s frustrated by the perception that his community is wholly anti-biotechnology.
“For four or five years, we’ve had no representation from this area of people that have enjoyed the progress that obviously GM canola has made.
“If research can’t be done in any sort of biotechnology, the affect it could have is limitless. We’ll just fall further behind the rest of the world.”
The Liberal Party and National Party have been unambiguous in their intentions to address this issue in a positive way for GM crop supporters.
EU REGULATION CHANGES ON THE WAY
According to a media release, long-awaited draft plans to change EU regulations to break the deadlock in GM crop plantings are closer with Members of the European Parliament voting on changes in November. The changes aim to make it easier for those Member States who want to ban GM crop cultivation in their jurisdiction to do so, whilst allowing those countries supportive of the technology, such as Spain and the United Kingdom, to grow crops approved as safe by the regulatory authorities.
“The measures approved today will secure flexibility for member states to restrict, ban the cultivation of GMO crops if they so wish. At the same time, we have secured a clear process for the authorisation of GMOs at EU level, with improved safeguards and a key role for the European Food Safety Authority, which is important for us” said Frédérique Ries who is steering the legislation through Parliament.
The approved text would entitle member states to pass legally binding acts restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of GM crops after they have been authorised at EU level. They could also ask, when a new GM crop is being assessed at EU level, to adjust the geographical scope of the authorisation.
Mark Lynas, former anti-GM campaigner turned technology supporter, and visiting fellow at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, has been very critical about the regulatory changes currently being considered by the European Commission for GM foods and crops.
According to Lynas, recent European council proposals won near-unanimous approval, from both anti and pro-GM countries because they would allow each to make their own decisions, however this compromise is being undermined by anti-GM lobbyists with the latest proposals from the parliament’s influential environment committee so drastically amended that they would make the existing stalemate even worse.
WA GM CROPS FREE AREAS LEGISLATION REVIEW REMAINS PENDING
Western Australia’s Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003 which came into effect in 2003 and was designed to prohibit growing GM crops and the destruction of crops in certain cases was last reviewed by the State Government in 2009 and is due for review this year. No announcement has been made yet regarding the date of the review or the form it may take. Key grower representative organisations are all calling for the legislation to be repealed (see Key Issues).
APPEAL BY MARSH
Earlier this year, organic farmer Steve Marsh lost a court case in which he tried to sue his GM canola-growing neighbour Michael Baxter for damages after the presence of GM canola on his farm led to his organic status being revoked. Mr Marsh has appealed the decision. A date has not been set to hear the appeal, although it is expected to be early in 2015.
Western Australian Supreme Court judge Justice Kenneth Martin, also handed down an order that awarded costs totalling $804,000 in Mr Baxter’s favour. The decision said: “The plaintiffs do pay the defendant’s costs of the action, including reserved costs, to be taxed if not agreed”.
NEW CONSUMER SURVEY IN THE USA
Results of a new consumer survey undertaken by researchers at the North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota in the USA shows that the majority of consumers will accept the presence of nanotechnology or genetic modification (GM) technology in foods – but only if the technology enhances the nutrition or improves the safety of the food.
The researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,117 U.S. consumers. Participants were asked to answer an array of questions that explored their willingness to purchase GM foods and foods that contained nanotech. The questions also explored the price of the various foods and whether participants would buy GM foods or foods that contained nanotech if the foods had enhanced nutrition, improved taste, improved food safety, or if the production of the food had environmental benefits.
The researchers found that survey participants could be broken into four groups.
- Eighteen per cent of participants belonged to a group labelled the “new technology rejecters,” which would not buy GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances.
- Nineteen per cent of participants belonged to a group labelled the “technology averse,” which would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits.
- Twenty-three per cent of participants were “price oriented,” basing their shopping decisions primarily on the cost of the food – regardless of the presence of GM or nanotech.
- And 40 per cent of participants were “benefit oriented,” meaning they would buy GM or nanotech foods if the foods had enhanced nutrition or food safety.
“This tells us that GM or nanotech food products have greater potential to be viable in the marketplace if companies focus on developing products that have safety and nutrition benefits – because a majority of consumers would be willing to buy those products,” says Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, senior author of a paper on the research and co-director of the Genetic Engineering in Society Center at NC State.
The paper, “Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products,” is published online in the Journal of Agricultural Economics and the research was supported by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture.
GM CROP BENEFITS: LARGE AND SIGNIFICANT SAYS STUDY
According to a recent study funded by the German Government and the European Union the agronomic and economic benefits of GM crops are large and significant. On average, GM technology adoption has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37 per cent, increased crop yields by 22 per cent, and increased farmer profits by 68 per cent. The study also shows that yield gains and pesticide reductions are larger for insect-resistant crops than for herbicide-tolerant crops, and that yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries.
Published in PLOS ONE, the paper ‘A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops,’ investigated the agronomic and economic impacts of GM crops using 147 original studies on primary data from farm surveys or field trials undertaken around the world.
US GOVERNMENT CONCLUDES GM WHEAT INVESTIGATION
After conducting a thorough investigation into the detection last year of GM wheat growing in a single field on a single farm in Oregon, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has concluded that the presence of the GM wheat appears to be an isolated incident. APHIS has now closed the investigation after exhausting all leads. A copy of the report of the investigation and evidence file is available on the APHIS website. Additionally, APHIS has opened a new investigation into a regulatory compliance issue involving GM wheat found growing at a research facility that was the previous site of authorised field trials in Montana.
GOLDEN RICE CAMPAIGNER IN AUSTRALIA
Ecologist Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, was recently in Australia to focus on campaigning for the immediate introduction of one key GM variety – vitamin A enhanced Golden Rice – for its potential humanitarian benefits. Dr Moore and his family have established the non-profit Allow Golden Rice Society to counter Greenpeace’s blocking of the product’s market approval.
RECORD CANOLA SHIPMENT
According to media reports, Australia’s largest shipment of canola departed CBH’s Kwinana port terminal in November. The 78,000-tonne shipment of non-GM canola, purchased from CBH, also marks one of WA’s largest-ever grain shipments. CBH Group trading manager for protein and oilseeds, Dane Robertson, said Europe was a major destination for Australian canola. Canola production in WA has increased significantly over the past five years. The record illustrates the success of coexistence in the grain supply chain, allowing market access to GM and non-GM canola varieties.
TAS COUNTING THE LOSSES
Tasmania’s canola industry is losing $9 million a year through a moratorium on GM crops according to figures detailed in a 2012 Macquarie Franklin review and reported in the media The figures mean the state has forfeited a farm gate income of $108 million over 12 years through the halt of emerging canola seed multiplication operations. In comparison, the state receives an annual $1.9 million income, that is $22.8 million over 12 years, through premiums on GM-free branded canola, and it costs Tasmanians $250,000 a year to regulate its GM-free status. The Macquarie Franklin review was commissioned by the former Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts.
HARPER REVIEW CALLS FOR LIFTING OF GM RESTRICTIONS
The Harper Review of Australia’s competition policy is critical of the South Australian and Tasmanian governments restricting farmers’ access to GM crops according to media reports.
Review panel member and Regional Australia Institute CEO Su McCluskey said the draft report stated that regulatory restrictions should not be imposed that prevent competition – but at the same time health and safety factors need to be considered by individual States.
“Following the introduction of the National Competition Policy in 1995, there was a concerted effort to examine and reform regulation that restricted competition – where the restrictions were not in the public interest,” she said.
“These regulations were subject to review for their anti-competitive impact.
“However, a number of these regulatory restrictions remain in place, including restrictions that prevent GM crops from being grown in SA and Tasmania, whereas they can be grown in all other mainland States.
A draft document of the comprehensive national competition policy review was open for public comment until 17 November.
WA GRAINS INDUSTRY SEEKS INPUT ON GROWTH STRATEGY
The Grains Industry Association of Western Australia (GIWA), on behalf of the whole Western Australian grains industry, has released a business plan that aims to double the industry’s overall value by 2025.
The business strategy aims to guide investments and projects that can lead to a substantial increase in the value of the WA grains industry, with eight recommended strategy actions.
The report highlighted the potential ongoing role GM crops could play in boosting the industry’s value, and in relation to reducing government regulation and red tape, the report states, “Another area identified that would assist the industry is for the State Government to repeal the Western Australian Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003 and amend the Western Australian Gene Technology Act 2006 to align with or be replaced by the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000,” the report said.
Comments are being sought on the strategy by 30 January 2015.
SECOND GM LUCERNE TRAIT APPROVED IN USA
The US Department of Agriculture has approved the commercialisation of the second GM trait in lucerne (alfalfa). Importantly, from an animal feed perspective, this lucerne has a quality benefit. Developed by Forage Genetics International (FGI), Monsanto, and the Nobel Foundation, the lucerne has been modified to have reduced lignin levels in the plant. Lignin is an important part of plant stems, conferring strength and upright growth habit, but it is essentially indigestible by ruminants, and lignin concentration is relatively high in lucerne compared with other forages.
GM POTATO COMMERCIALLY-APPROVED IN THE USA
A potato genetically modified to reduce the amounts of acrylamide produced when the potatoes are fried to make fries and potato chips has been approved for commercial planting in the USA. Acrylamide is suspected of causing cancer in people. The new potato also resists bruising, a characteristic long sought by potato growers and processors as potatoes bruised during harvesting, shipping or storage can lose value or become unusable.
EU SCIENCE ADVISER SACKED
According to media reports, the European Union’s chief scientific adviser has been sacked because of her support for GM crops. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, fired Professor Anne Glover as part of his plans to allow countries to ban GM crops even if scientific advice says the technology is safe said the report.
SUPPORTING BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE EU
Growing Voices, EuropaBio’s newsletter which aims to highlight the broad based and growing interest in genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe, features video interviews with key biotechnology experts in its latest edition, including:
- Professor Sven Ove Hansson, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm – Now that we have acquired much more knowledge about GMOs, Professor Hansson considers it irrational to keep such restricted regulation based on past uncertainties.
- Professor Martina Newell McGloughin, University of California Davis, USA – Biotechnology has a lot of potential for ensuring a sustainable food production system. Professor McGloughin regrets that many promising technologies may never get out of the laboratories because of the current regulatory system.
- Professor Diran Makinde, Director ABNE, Africa – The discussion on GM technology in Africa is linked to the food security challenge. This is why the mission of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) is to guide African regulators to empower decision-making based on science.
- Dr Claude M. Fauquet, Director Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century – After fourteen years of efforts, scientists are about to develop a GM cassava in about two to four years. Despite the financing and regulatory challenges, Dr. Fauquet has hope that farmers in Africa will get access to this technology that offers benefits.
SCIENCE MEETS POLICYMAKERS
Location: The Molonglo Theatre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University Acton, Canberra
Date: 11 February 2015
Details: Science & Technology Australia, in partnership with Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, invites registrations for a one-day conference to enable policymakers and scientists to achieve better public policy outcomes. Science meets Policymakers will bring together researchers from a range of disciplines and policymakers from various government departments to examine the intersection between the evidence base and policy development. Participants in the event will include policymakers, parliamentarians, academics, practising scientists, and representatives from scientific societies and industries employing scientists. Confirmed speakers include: Dr Michael Keating AC, FASSA, FIPAA; Professor Brian Schmidt AC; Professor Hugh White AO; Professor Tom Kompas; Professor Bruce Chapman; Dr Subho Banerjee; and, Anne-Marie Lansdown. This project is supported by the Australian Government Department of Industry.
AGRICULTURAL BIOSCIENCE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE (ABIC)
Location: Melbourne Convention Centre
Date: 7-9 September 2015
Details: The theme for ABIC 2015 is “New thinking, new discoveries and new applications”. More than building on past accomplishments to create a strong and sustainable industry, the program will celebrate innovation in agricultural biotechnology. Attracting delegates from a broad range of industries and backgrounds, the program will be built around three streams, each critical to the global application of biotechnology in agriculture.
- Biomes as systems: A big picture approach to interactions between forages and plant protection, livestock and rumen microbiomes, and agricultural produce.
- Making the seemingly impossible possible: This stream focuses on new thinking and new discoveries being applied in plant biotechnology.
- Making it work in the real world: What are the implications of new generation technologies and products entering the market where there is increasing regulation, trade constraints and competition for investment?
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.