Yesterday ABC radio’s The World Today ran a story on GM wheat as a solution to Western Australia’s salinity problems. While a general solution to salinity I am sure it is not, a salt tolerant/more salt tolerant wheat variety must be a welcome addition to the mix of varieties currently available.
I was aware of research at the South Australian-based Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) focused on developing new drought and frost tolerant varieties.
According to discussions I had with these researchers in SA about a year ago, frost tolerance has become an issue because plant breeders have been selecting for early maturing varieties in order to escape potential summer drought. But, this has now exposed crops to frost during flowering.
There is apparently variation for traits for frost and salt tolerance in the “crossable” gene pool for wheat and barley, but there are far better genes in other plants and these would need to be transferred via GM methods.
I am well known as ‘a fan’ of GM food crops.
I often repeat the statistic that 90 per cent of Queensland and NSW cotton growers now plant GM and use on average 88 per cent less insecticide than those growing conventional varieties.
It is perhaps less well know that I am genuinely puzzled by many people’s aversion to GM.
I can understand and respect the ethical arguments, but the “I hate corporations therefore I am against GM” seems rather trite.
And the argument that Monsanto is all powerful just doesn’t wash. That all State governments (except Queensland which has a climate unsuitable for canola) have now passed legislation banning the commercial production of GM food crops (cotton exempt in NSW on the basis it is grown primarily for fibre even though about 35 percent of the vegetable oil we eat in Australia is from cotton seed) as a direct consequence of the successfully Greenpeace campaign against Monsanto’s GM canola would suggest to me that it is Greenpeace, not Monsanto, that has most pull with State governments.
I do crave some really honest and informed public discussion on GM.
Neil Hewett says
I have no knowledge of GM, but it would seem that the greatest concern are unforseen consequences.
Surely the release of any GM entity from the controlled environment of the laboratory is rigorously constrained by ethics committees and environmental safeguards?
If not, why not?
Graham Finlayson says
Its not that people hate corporations, but the ability of some corporations to dictate and manipulate in the case of GM that gets our back up.
Greenpeace and others like them are only providing a voice for the millions of concerned, regular people, that can influence governments. We have no pecuniary interest as have Monsanto etc. and are purely striving for caution. If GM’s don’t warrant a cautionary approach then why will insurance companies not accept any liability?
That comment about the “the cotton industries lower level of chemical use” is becoming rather ‘trite’. Even if they didn’t use any chemical at all they would still not be a truly sustainable, renewable use of our natural resources. And do you honestly believe Jennifer, that it is a fair and equitable use of water?
GM cotton should have been blocked.
As for the trial in WA of GM wheat. Why? If the soil is that degraded, then do something about THAT!!!. Not just look for another way to make a profit out of the degradation.
“….it is being regulated extremely severely in the office of the gene technology regulator, they wouldn’t let out something thats going to really cause harm to the environment.”
“Quote” Lex Stone (trial host)
Oh no,of course they wouldn’t…Santa won’t let them.
Jennifer, I was at a conference in Orange last year and one of the guests gave a talk on how he had been growing tree lucerne (Tagastase? I think) on badly salt affected country in WA. He has had fantastic results and transformed the place. This is the sort of solutions we should be looking for, real benefits (& profits) for people, land and communities.
Please take your blinkers off and look past the bandaid GM solution, as there are plenty of alternatives that don’t have negative impacts on our neighbours. Whether they be down the road, or in another country.
Graham the phrase “Please take your blinkers off” (RE GM) was used by the opening and closing speakers at the 2003 national organic conference. GM has potentially many uses, cancer is one. Yet the organic movement say “NO” based on NO data only unfounded fears.
It was not so long ago when a man had to walk in front of a horseless carriage with a red flag.
You say greenpeace represents “millions of concerned, regular people” – any data to back that up? or is that just an opinion.
Greenpeace have yet to properly enter the political arena, content to sit on the side and take potshots whilst collecting donations.
And just what is it with you people about money, at the 2003 conference people often said to me in exasperation “why is it always about money?” (some say I am an exasperating person). Money (and profits) seemed like a dirty word.
Money is the most fair and equitable methodfor exchange of goods and services.
Forget gold, too heavy
Forget work sharing, they never work as hard as you do
Forget bartering, just swapping your junk for mine.
Graham Finlayson says
I agree that GM technology could have great benefits for mankind. I have stated that before. The way that we are being rail-roaded into it is the problem. We will all have to live with the consequences of a hastily rushed experiment gone wrong. I won’t force you or anyone else to be ‘organic’.Big difference.
We still have to have a red flag in front of some wide, long etc horseless carriages as a ‘precautionary’ measure.
My ‘opinion’ is that yes there are many millions of people worldwide that are very concerned. I’m
not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought maybe Greenpeace have a charter to influence governments, not become one.
I agree with your thoughts on ‘money’….I’m not sure what you are actually getting at though. Yes, money is only the ‘oil’ required to allow the machinery of our economy to function and should never be the end goal in itself. We need to be profitable in business so that we can make the right choices about what is important. It follows then that there be a real cost associated with the use of our natural resources.
If agricultural practices do not improve and nuture soil then everyone ends up paying.
If half of the budget for these companies that is now used for GM research into patenting new or modified organisms was focused on nutrition we would not have the cancer we have now. Between carcinogenic chemicals, diet and poor nutrition they would just about get it covered.
Big problem with that….they can’t patent it.
Why don’t we fix the problem of salinity? Believe me, many people are working towards that end in a wide variety of ways.
Tagasaste doesn’t grow in saline country, but it can be used to reduce recharge on sandy well-drained sites.
There is saltbush being used to revegetate saline valley floors, but this is (a) probably better suited to land that won’t grow anything else but a halophyte and I doubt salt tolerant wheat would venture that far into the worst saline land, and (b) saltbush, and tagasate, grow meat and wool. Meat is doing okay, but wool looks like it’s in economic trouble for the long haul. Either way, farming, like solutions for salinity, requires diversity and wheat is a fundamental part of the agricultutural mix (because since about 13,000 years ago it has been one of the staple foods for our species).
There are several other options such as lucerne, and various woody species such as oil mallees, which are either in use or under development as strategies to reduce the amount of excess water in the landscape. Productive salt tolerant wheat will also increase the amount of water transpired from the landscape.
But there are a number of considerations about time and scale. Solutions for salinity, including the engineering options, take a long time to develop and then apply at a scale where they will be effective. Costs of development are very high for novel land uses and associated industry development and decades of work are involved. In the meantime, salinity is a problem that has been unleashed and will probably take centuries to control, even partially. Unless we stopped agriculture now and replanted the landscape to native woody vegetation immediately, the problem will get a lot worse before it returns to be as bad as it is now. Just saying, “why doesn’t someone fix it?” suggests you may be speaking from the comfort of your armchair.
So if someone develops a salt tolerant wheat, more strength to their sword arm!
Graham I disagree with your assertion that money “should never be the end goal in itself.”
It should be the aim, you should aim to return a profit, you need money to keep your business sustainable.
If it is not your aim then you have abandoned your fiducary responsibilities.
There is a federal government Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. This office oversaw the establishment of committees, including an ethics committee, to evaluate the issues and risks associated with the growing of GM canola. After a period of I think 2 years, the decision was made that GM canola represented no more of a risk to human health and the environment than non-GM canola and on this basis was given the OK.
Greenpeace fearing this outcome, which I argue was based on the best information and an open and transparent process, went into overdrive lobbying the State governments to ban GM canola and other GM crops. Greenpeace achieved this through a process of misinformation (e.g. claiming GM canola would be a first and denying GM cotton as a source of vegetatable oil) and bullying (e.g. threatening the Victorian govenrment with a campaign against dairy cows being feed GM soy if it didn’t ban the GM canola).
Neil Hewett says
The debate, then, is whether or not we have faith in the integrity of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
Neil, I think the case for GM canola is about maintaining international competitiveness, but even more so about doing the right thing by the environment. The following link to a piece I wrote for the West Australian perhaps asks some of the relevant questions http://www.ipa.org.au/files/news_263.html.
There is a guy in WA who promotes GM from a soil health perspective check out this link and the website http://www.no-till.com.au/pdfs/gm_issues_biotechnology.pdf .
Graham Finlayson says
Your wrong about Tagasaste. I thought it strange that I had listened to a man speak after travelling from W.A. to Orange NSW purely to promote the benefits of it. No hidden agenda, he just wanted to share his success. So I got on the ‘net’, and theres no trouble finding info.
We don’t need to remove agriculture from the equation Rick, as it is part of the cure. By using perrenial grasses (and trees) in conjunction with herbivores(sheep & cattle) we can recreate the natural systems that kept the water table in check. And yes an annual crop such as wheat can be a part of that system, but not if you have to kill the base of perrenials in the process. My answer would be to try ‘pasture cropping’ which is gaining in popularity in the NSW wheat belt now with progressive farmers that want to lower costs and reguvinate their soils.I met a man called Colin Seis three years ago that is one of the pioneers.He said then that yeilds were lower, so you didn’t skite at the pub, but profit margins came out in front. Thats the important gauge. He is now finding that yields are also comparable, with the increasing health of his soils. You also have the benefit of grazing in summer. This process does not take centuries, as plenty before me have proved.
Also Rick, I did not say “why doesn’t someone fix it?”.
I said ” Why don’t they address THAT” meaning look at the problem and what can be done, rather than just find a solution to the short term economic worry.
Also I have been called a few things, but never an ‘armchair critic’. I have spent a lot of time, money and energy trying to find a way to address the issues we have, and if I don’t get it right it will cost me dearly.
Rog, about money.
Have you ever sat down and written long term goals for yourself? Or a “vision”? I have, and money does not come into it. How could it. It is just a means to an end.
If you are a rich person thinking of only more money. Then you are no better off then a poor person thinking of only more money. I consider myself a ‘business man’ and work pretty hard at it but ‘money’ is not my top priority. Its important sure, but not in the top five.
I think ‘minimum till’ is a vast improvement on traditional farming practices, but it is heavily reliant on chemical usage. That really does negate its ability to truly improve soil ‘health’. I’m not a farmer (only grazing),but I have got a licence to crop a few acres and the only method that really interests me is this “pasture cropping”, and would love to trial it in this area one day. Could you possibly drag yourself away from ‘monsanto’ and check out this method maybe???!!
What do you think is the ‘hidden agenda’ behind Greenpeace etc that we have to be afraid of?
I know what I’m afraid of…
Louis Hissink says
As a comment from left stage, GM modification might be viewed as our species adaption to changed circumstances.