The following article is from The Sydney Morning Herald:
By Ben Cubby
AUSTRALIA’S first trial of genetically modified wheat and barley has begun near Narrabri in NSW, with the ultimate goal of producing more nutritious bread.
But details of how exactly the genes were altered remain secret. The CSIRO, which is running the three-year experiment, said the various gene combinations in the trial were subject to commercial-in-confidence agreements to protect the interests of various government research agencies and a US company, Arcadia Biosciences.
The trial has been criticised by environment groups and some organic farmers, who say there is no known way to stop the altered wheat and barley from mixing with natural strains and ”contaminating” a swathe of Australia’s wheat crop.
The CSIRO says it will follow the safety requirements set down in a licence issued by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. ”They will be separated from other crops by 200 metres, and wheat pollen travels about one metre, so it is highly unlike any will be found beyond that,” said Matthew Morell, a researcher with the CSIRO’s Future Food division. ”Because these are patented technologies, there is still a need for restricting the details in terms of protecting commercial information.”
Fourteen separate strains of wheat and barley will be grown. Some will test the viability of enriching the crops with extra nutrients, and others will focus on using nitrogen from the soil more efficiently, which would in theory lead to higher productivity without requiring more fertiliser.
”We have done testing in greenhouses on these crops before but we also need to see how they react in the field, with the presence of other plants,” Dr Morell said. ”At the end of the process we should have two or three years of data, and we can make an assessment about it.”
The licence says the risk of the genetically modified crops escaping their containment is very low. ”The risk assessment concluded that this proposed limited and controlled release … poses negligible risks to the health and safety of people or the environment as a result of gene technology,” the gene technology regulator said.
However, the environment group Greenpeace opposes the trial, on the basis that there have been no laboratory trials on the safety of the modified crops for human or animal consumption.
It says genetically modified trial crops have usually broken their containment lines as a result of human error. In the case of a modified canola crop in southern NSW, seeds appear to have spilled from trucks driving down roads near an experimental farm. This spread the canola and potentially exposed government agencies to legal action from farmers who market their products as organic.
A Greenpeace spokeswoman, Laura Kelly, said: ”The Australian government’s decision to go ahead with GM wheat field trials amounts to a covert decision taken on behalf of Australia’s wheat farmers, consumers and export markets that Australian wheat will be GM.”
An organic farming group, The Biological Farmers of Australia, said the trial should not proceed without safety tests first.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Posted by Haylie Shipp