Experts defend GM trials after Greenpeace attack

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Australia Gm

Experts defend GM trials after Greenpeace attack
Bringing a halt to genetically modified (GM) food trials would undermine competitiveness, according to one expert responding to the destruction of a GM wheat trial at a CSIRO farm in Canberra.

Professor Christopher Preston, of the School of Agriculture Food and Wine, at the University of Adelaide said that “to produce more food on less land with less water and to look after the environment, Australian farmers will need to continue to innovate.”

He was speaking on the ABC’s The Science Show after Greenpeace activists last month used wheat whipper snippers (strimmers) to remove a controversial GM wheat crop in the Australian region.

CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is Australia's national science agency and claims to be one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

Two women from Sydney, aged 47 and 34, are said to be facing trial for their part in the attack with charges of trespass and damaging property.

Some of the GM trials taking place in Australia include sugar cane and bananas as well as wheat. GM trials are conducted under licences from the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, which imposes strict containment conditions.

Environmental groups fear the possible long-term health risks and effects on the environment of GM, with one main concern being cross-contamination with conventional crops.

Greenpeace claims GM crops are dangerous to public health and risk destroying natural wheat varieties. It is calling on the Australian government to ban GM wheat - although Greenpeace food campaigner Laura Kelly has argued that it does not object to GM research in the lab rather than releasing GM organisms into the environment.

However, Preston told ABC’s The Science Show: “There has been considerable outcry over this Greenpeace stunt, both within Australia and overseas by other scientists, including Suzanne Cory, President of the Australian Academy of Science.

“In my experience, Australian farmers are some of the most innovative in the world; however, South American farmers are now not far behind.

“In order to maintain their competitive edge, to produce more food on less land with less water and to look after the environment, Australian farmers will need to continue to innovate.

“To do so, they are going to need access to all of the useful technologies available. Denying Australia's farmers access to safe and useful technologies for ideological reasons is, in my view, tantamount to deliberately sending Australian farmers to the wall.”

CSIRO has estimated that the cost of the damage was around $300,000, based on having to repeat the whole trial next year.

According to ABC’s Landline, although the trials may be taking place in Australia, global firms are involved.

It states that French company Limagrain helps fund the modified starched GM wheat that CSIRO is trialling near Canberra, and part owns the technology.

While a GM banana project in Queensland, where they contain higher levels of provitamin A and are designed to improve diets in Africa, is funded by the Gates Foundation.

Meanwhile Greenpeace has called for an investigation into alleged links between CSIRO, Monsanto and its Australian distributor Nufarm, as it claims that the involvement of biotech companies in field trials represents “a clear conflict of interest”​.

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