GM wheat welcome: GRDC

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GRAINS Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) chairman, Keith Perrett, has added his voice to the chorus of scientists and farm groups denouncing suggestions that genetically modifed (GM) wheat is unwelcome in Australia, and floundering in North America.

GRDC invested $5.3 million into GM wheat research last financial year, or about 3.7 percent of its annual budget.

Mr Perrett said GRDC knew GM wheat research was being conducted not only in Canada and the US but also other parts of the world, projecting a positive global outlook for the technology following rigorous assessment.

He said these countries were looking into GM wheat’s potential benefits for farmers and consumers, and GRDC wanted to ensure – when consumers and markets were ready for it – “our growers have access to these technologies and consumers”.

Mr Perrett said GM products required a large volume of work going into development over a lengthy period of time.

“If we did not have the products ready to roll out to growers here in Australia when the world is ready to accept GM wheat some time in the future, we would be negligent in our duty to growers,” he said.

“Canada and the US are pursuing the technology responsibly and doing the research.

“To say that it’s been rejected is a stupid claim, because the technology is not out there yet.

“Really we are at least seven to eight years away from having a (GM wheat) product in the market place.”

Attending the Australian Grains Industry Conference in Melbourne this week, Mr Perrett said he heard a speaker from the US talking about the rapid uptake of GM sugar beets in his part of the country, which captured 98 percent of the market within two years.

He said the other two percent of the sugar beet acreage wasn’t GM only because there wasn’t enough seed to provide 100 percent coverage.

According to reports, more than 50 percent of US granulated sugar is derived from GM sugar beets, with plants modified in a similar fashion to US corn, cotton and soybeans – inserted with a gene making them resistant to Roundup.

“It just shows where the products are beneficial, growers will choose them,” Mr Perrett said.

“We don’t want to see our growers denied access to those products.”

Mr Perrett said GRDC were not signatories to the 2009 trilateral GM wheat statement involving Canada, Australia and the US, because the signatures came from industry bodies, but were fully supportive.

“We are a researcher, not really an industry body, but we see a future here for GM wheat and want to be part of that,” he said.

Mr Perrett was reluctant to comment on Greenpeace’s destruction of CSIRO’s GM wheat trials on July 14,

He said he wanted to be “cautious” while the Australian Federal Police were investigating the matter, to avoid jeopardising the outcome.

“We certainly support a proper investigation and any action against individuals or organisations that can be taken,” he said.

“We will continue to support world-class scientific research that will give growers the best technology to be sustainable and profitable for the future.

“Greenpeace can come in and conduct their antics, but I expect they will be dealt with appropriately through the police investigation.”

Mr Perrett said the full cost of damage to the GM wheat trials was difficult to estimate, but expressed disappointed the project had been delayed by 12 months.

“There is a big cost in terms of the time lost, and in not having that information available to do further work or make further decisions.

“That’s the cost you just can’t put an exact dollar figure on.”

Mr Perrett said he was concerned Greenpeace was making false claims as part of its anti-GM campaign, and posed an ongoing threat.

“When you see false information being pedalled this way, it actually increases the requirement for us to make sure that accurate, credible, unbiased information gets out there.

“That’s what this research is about; delivering accurate, credible unbiased information.”

One of the field trials at Ginninderra was examining GM wheat which includes a trait which increases biomass and grain yield.

In glasshouse trials, up to 20 percent increases in biomass and grain yield had been observed.

Mr Perrett said as well as working on the GDW gene, GRDC was also in partnership with CSIRO for a trial developing high amylose wheat.


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