Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 073 March-April 2008 - North
GM benefits outweigh risks n A study by University of Queensland ethicist Dr Lucy Carter has found that risks associated with the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) plants and food are alarmist and exaggerated. The study found that the benefits of GM plants and food outweighed the risks, finding no compelling evidence of harm to humans from GM plants. Dr Carter spent more than three years Commentary Ground cover March – april 2008 34 The Gene Scene By paula FiTzGerald GMos and gene technology in australia agrifood awareness australia limited Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate and decision-making about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by three peak bodies, including the GRDC. Gene TechnoloGy workShopS in nSw, wa and vicToria Agrifood Awareness Australia and CSIRO will hold gene technology workshops in Wagga Wagga, Cunderdin and Bendigo in March, April and June respectively. The workshops of fer those involved in agriculture the oppor tunity to understand the science and regulation of gene technology in Australia. The two-day workshops allow par ticipants to gain a basic understanding of the laborator y techniques that underpin gene technology. Training includes laborator y work in DNA extraction, gene isolation and gene transfer, as well as formal lectures including a case study. The workshop is conducted by a combination of CSIRO teaching and scientific research staf f from Canberra. More information: Agrifood Awareness Australia, www.aafa.com.au Go GrainS conTinueS To Grow in 2008 n The business of Go Grains is to increase the value of the Australian grains industry by influencing decisions consumers make about the foods that they buy. For the past 10 years, Go Grains has communicated the latest information about grains and health to target audiences, including health professionals, teachers, industry, government, grain growers, the media and the general public. Consumer information materials, educational resources and media campaigns promoting the nutrition and health benefits of grains and legumes are based on a, now substantial, database of science-based information about grains and health compiled by Go Grains over that time. Technical submissions to government on food-regulatory issues, development of industry positions on nutrition issues, and promotion of public-health recommendations relevant to grain and legume- based foods are components of a broad strategy by which Go Grains contributes to driving the public health agenda for grain foods and health. Delivering these outcomes involves engagement with a broad range of industry participants, including major research organisations, food manufacturers and processors, grain growers and government. The establishment of strong and consistent communications and research initiatives attract membership for Go Grains, which is critical to ensure the success and longevity of the organisation. To further develop the capacity of Go Grains to deliver in its key focus areas – communication and research – the management and operations structure have recently been reviewed. Two new positions – scientific adviser and marketing manager – have been created. These positions carry responsibility for management of the R&D and marketing/communications advisory committees respectively, but importantly will expand the skills base of the core Go Grains management team. The scientific adviser will also become part of the Go Grains Expert Scientific Advisory Group (a further new initiative in 2008), which will apply scientific rigour to the review of all Go Grains scientific materials, from commissioned reports to other published and unpublished papers on which communications are based. Dr David Roberts has accepted the appointment as scientific adviser. He brings a wealth of experience and understanding about nutrition, research and food-industry issues to the position. His recent experience includes roles as scientific and technical director at the Australian Food and Grocery Council and professor of human nutrition at the University of Newcastle. The research agenda is shifting into a higher gear with the importance of the link between food manufacturers, researchers and growers being recognised as vital in resolving research issues in human nutrition. The recent management changes will enable Go Grains to continue to grow and develop, with specific focus on strengthening the developing research agenda. More information: www.gograins.com.au Go GrainS By TriSh GriFFiThS accredited practising dietitian; executive Manager, Go Grains health and nutrition ltd examining arguments and evidence for and against the development and use of GM plants and food in Australia and in the developing world. She says there was no evidence to justify continuing moratoria on commercial GM planting, so long as thorough risk assessments were done. Opponents say GM products are unnatural, potentially harmful to humans and capable of environmental injury and creating ‘superweeds’. Dr Carter says the risk of GM plants transferring allergenic proteins to novel foods or creating superweeds is very low. “If you take a GM plant and a conventional plant, you can’t easily create a hybrid that is both strong enough to withstand natural environmental conditions as well as survive all eradication attempts unless you’re in the lab ... it’s just too difficult.” Asked if it was too early to tell if GM plants were safe, Dr Carter says research that included risk assessments showed no reason for alarm. “I think the risks and benefits are overstated by both sides of the debate ... opponents tend to inflate the risks while proponents at times overstate the benefits. My research has shown that there are enormous benefits to investment in GM plants.” More information: www.uq.edu.au/news/index. html?article=13868 SupporT For Gene TechnoloGy and GM planTS n The Australian Academy of Science has released a statement saying it supports the responsible and ethical use of gene technologies to produce genetically modified (GM) plants for use in Australian agriculture. It says that adverse consumer reactions to GM, and the science system more broadly, have the potential to negatively impact on innovation. This then creates a flow-on risk of discouraging investment in R&D, harming Australia’s progress. The Academy says there are already immediate, urgent needs in the developing world to secure yields and to reduce the impact of pests, diseases and environmental degradation. The statement goes on to say that sometimes the lack of full certainty in an environment of manageable risk should not be used as the reason to postpone measures where genetic modification can legitimately be used to address environmental or public health issues. More information: www.science.org.au/policy/gene-tech.htm ScienTiSTS idenTiF y crucial Barley Gene n Although barley is known for its ability to adapt to unfavourable growing conditions, yields in Australian barley crops can be cut by as much as 17 per cent because of boron toxicity. Since the early 1980s scientists have known about the toxic effects of boron on cereal crops in southern Australia. Boron toxicity appears in the tips of the older leaves first, turning them yellow with characteristic brown spots, then extending down the leaf as toxicity increases until it causes tissue death and eventually plant death. Thirty per cent of South Australia’s grain-growing soils are affected by high levels of boron. A major gene responsible for boron toxicity tolerance in barley has recently been identified by Adelaide scientists. This will allow breeders to select – with 100 per cent accuracy – barley varieties tolerant to boron. The discovery was made by a research team led by Dr Tim Sutton of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG). The gene, known as Bot1, helps barley plants survive in soils containing high amounts of boron, by preventing the entry and accumulation of boron in the plant, which causes damage and limits growth. ACPFG CEO Professor Peter Langridge says boron is an essential micronutrient for plants, but they require just the right amount; boron toxicity and deficiency severely limit crop production worldwide. Barley is Australia’s second-largest grain crop and is mostly grown for animal feed. According to the SA Government, demand for cereal feed grains will increase by 75 per cent to 925,000 tonnes annually by 2010. A licence application has been submitted to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) for the limited and controlled release (field trials) of the GM barley containing the boron tolerant gene. More information: www.adelaide.edu.au/news/ news23161.html; www.pir.sa .gov.au; www.ogtr.gov.au waandSaTo reMain GM Free By reBecca Thyer n South Australia has chosen to extend its moratorium on growing genetically modified (GM) canola beyond the end of April, when existing regulations lapse. The move comes despite the state’s GM Crops Advisory Committee recommending that the moratorium be lifted, except on Kangaroo Island. Announcing the decision, Premier Mike Rann said SA’s clean and green image was important in marketing the state’s food and wine to the world, and his decision would mean that this image was not affected. “We are yet to be convinced allowing GM crops will have a positive impact on the marketing of our food and wine to our important export destinations around the world. “It makes sense for us to maintain our current position until there’s more certainty regarding the impact of exporting GM grains.” WA Agriculture and Food Minister Kim Chance welcomed SA’s decision, saying that the state had clearly recognised that GM food crops were rejected by the majority of consumers. He said it meant both WA and SA would be able to maintain their clean and green image, making it easier to promote their produce to export markets. Significantly, SA’s decision now meant that Australia’s leading grain export states would remain GM-free.
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