Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 063 August 2006 - North
Drought, fungal-tolerant wheat in pipeline n A $28 million agreement has been reaffirmed between BASF Plant Science and the Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to develop high-yielding wheat more resistant to drought and fungal diseases. As part of a seven-year joint research effort, BASF Plant Science is making available its collection of gene candidates for yield increase, drought tolerance and resistance to fungal disease. The Molecular Plant Breeding CRC will provide the scientific expertise and a patented technique that is highly effective in developing genetic modifications of wheat. According to a joint media release, wheat is the most frequently cultivated cereal in the world after corn. Prolonged periods of drought can cause major losses in yield, not only in arid areas such as Australia but increasingly also in Europe. Fungal diseases can also significantly reduce yields. Genetically modified wheat that can resist fungal attacks will help farmers use crop protection agents more efficiently. More information: www.molecularplantbreeding. com/news/releases/060608.asp GM pasture and the dairy industry n At the recent United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) annual conference the potential impact of GM pastures on the dairy industry was outlined by Professor German Spangenberg, research director of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) plant genetics and genomic research program. The most advanced pasture research in Australia is a virus-resistant white clover project, which is undergoing field trials in Victoria. Developed by the Victorian DPI, the GM clover is resistant to alfalfa mosaic virus (AMV). Before the project started, many pasture sites displayed AMV infection rates of about 40 per cent, with some having infestation exceeding 90 per cent. Professor Spangenberg predicts: n overall, improving forage quality has the potential to provide a $320 million benefit to Australia’s grazing industries if high-quality grass is used to replace supplements currently used; n a 25 per cent increase in milk production if a high digestibility perennial ryegrass – developed with gene technology – is used in the future, translating into a $49 million benefit to the dairy industry; n perennial ryegrass with increased water- soluble carbohydrates may increase lamb production per hectare by 23 per cent; and n hypoallergenic ryegrass has the potential to save Australia $86 million through reduced hayfever and asthma incidence. None of these ryegrass projects has reached the field trial stage in Australia, although field trials of the hayfever-free ryegrass are taking place in the US. Upon completion of the US study and an Australian study of gene flow using non-GM ryegrass, it is expected that a field trial application to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator will be made for a ryegrass with both increased herbage qualities (high fructan and low lignin content) and allergy-free characteristics. Following the presentation, a resolution was proposed from the floor: that the UDV should reverse its anti-GM policy and support choice of GM technology in the dairy industry. The resolution will be tabled at next year ’s annual conference, allowing members 12 months to consider whether they support this policy direction. More information: Biotech Bulletin 19, www.afaa.com.au Confidence high in GT regulatory system n Australia’s gene technology regulatory system is serving the country well by achieving its aims to protect the health and safety of people and the environment, according to an independent review of the system tabled in Parliament in April. The review involved an extensive national community consultation process, which included forums in each state and territory. The major issue raised by the review is the extent to which state moratoria on the growing of GM crops have undermined the nationally consistent framework that the Intergovernmental Agreement on Gene Technology was intended to support. The review noted that there was no evidence of adverse impacts on markets and concluded that the moratoria were having detrimental rather than beneficial impacts. It recommends that all jurisdictions reaffirm their commitment to a nationally consistent scheme, including a nationally consistent approach to market considerations, and work together to develop a national coexistence framework. Improvements suggested for the system also include increasing public participation, reducing the administrative burden for low-risk research and focusing resources on areas of greatest potential risk to people and the environment. The Gene Technology Ministerial Council members (comprising a minister from each state and territory and the Australian Government) will now develop a joint response to the panel’s recommendations regarding the operation of the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 on behalf of their governments. More information: www.health.gov.au/internet/ wcms/publishing.nsf/Content/gtreview-report.htm US report – 10 years of GM crops n The latest report to consider the overall impact of GM crops, entitled The first decade of genetically engineered crops in the United States, has been published by the US Government’s Economic Research Service. It considers the economic and environmental impact of GM crops on the three key stakeholders of the technology – seed suppliers and technology providers, farmers and consumers. The US commercial seed market is the world’s largest, followed by those in China and Japan. The US market continues to grow, with growth driven by the seed market for corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat. Because of the high costs associated with biotechnology R&D, chemical and seed businesses combined to take advantage of strong demand through a series of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. As a result, by 1997 92 per cent of cotton seed, 69 per cent of corn seed and 47 per cent of soybean seed sales were controlled by the four largest firms providing seed. Since 1996, when GM corn, cotton and soybean were introduced into US farming, the use of GM crops has grown and now represents a significant portion of the national acreage. For example, GM herbicide-tolerant soybean represents 87 per cent of the national soybean area, herbicide-tolerant GM cotton represents 60 per cent of the cotton acreage and insect-resistant cotton represents 52 per cent, and insect-resistant corn covers 35 per cent of the corn cropping system. The economic impact of GM crop use on producers varies between the crop and modification it contains. Increased returns were associated with herbicide-tolerant corn and cotton, and insect-resistant corn and cotton where insect pressures were most prevalent. The use of GM crops has also had a positive impact on the environment as overall pesticide use is reduced. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans have contributed to the rise in adoption of soil conservation practices such as no-till. Most surveys and consumer studies indicate that consumers have at least some concerns about foods containing GM ingredients. However, these concerns have not had an impact on such foods in the US marketplace. Also, despite these consumer concerns, ‘GE-free’ labels are not widely used in the US, although manufacturers are slowly developing a market in this area. More information: www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB11/ Commentary GROUND COVER AUGUST 2006 28 Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by three peak bodies, including the GRDC. THE GENE SCENE BY PAULA FITZGERALD GMOs and gene technology in Australia Agrifoods Awareness Australia Limited COLLABORATION KEY TO PROTECTING PRODUCTIVE RESOURCE BASE THE HON SUSSAN LEY, MP Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries AND FORESTRY AND MEMBER FOR FARRER n The protection and improvement of our soil, water and natural vegetation is key to sustaining Australia’s agricultural and rural industries. All rural industries have an interest in, and will benefit from, improving the management of our natural resources. To enhance the quality of communication, collaboration and reporting on natural resource management, the Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) formed a joint Natural Resource Management (NRM) Working Group. The group has mapped all RDC investment against a natural resource management framework based on National Research & Development priorities. When the group reported to me recently, I was particularly interested in how the RDCs apportioned their investments between production and natural resource management. In total, the RDCs invest 17% Marine biodiversity 3% Market and community confidence 14% Capacity building 2% Capacity building research 7% New technology for NRM outcomes 5% Sustainable control options 1% Greenhouse and energy 3% Climate variability and change 3% Landscape management 6% Farming systems 1% Freshwater biodiversity 7% Terrestrial biodiversity 8% Soil condition 3% Soil landscape processes 5% Water quality 7% Water use and balance 2% Policy and institutions Total investment $78.5 million 4% Strategy NRM planning RDC investment: NRM reporting framework 2004–05 2% Policy and institutions 20 per cent, or about $78.5 million, of their income into projects that have direct natural resource benefits. More information on this investment is provided in the diagram. As the natural resource base is common across all rural industries it makes sense to collaborate to optimise the effectiveness of natural resource investment outcomes. For example, ‘Grain & Graze’ is a collaborative effort across four RDCs to find a more profitable and sustainable balance between growing grain, producing meat and wool and enhancing biodiversity on-farm. Climate also affects all industries, and the joint investment to develop better within-season climate forecasts and strategies through the Managing Climate Variability Program has enabled farmers to better adapt to climate change. Other collaborative efforts are focusing on enhancing soils and water resources. Projects funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation in precision agriculture and nutrient management often have multiple benefits to individual growers, the industry and community. For example, the more efficient use of fertiliser means reduced costs and less run- off of nutrients to streams or movement to groundwater. This is a win for farmer profitability and a win for the environment. I have asked the RDCs’ NRM Working Group to ensure that they communicate the results of this collaborative effort to farmers on a regular basis.
Ground Cover 062 June-July 2006 - North
Ground Cover 064 September-October 2006 - North