Illegal GM wheat contamination in the US.
Will Australia be next?

May 29, Melbourne – Yesterday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed a farmer from Oregon found illegal genetically modified (GM) wheat plants in his field[1]. This herbicide-tolerant wheat developed by the biotech transnational Monsanto to withstand direct application of Roundup was last authorised to be tested in open air fields in Oregon in 2001. It is uncertain how the contamination happened.

GM wheat is not commercially grown anywhere in the world. The Australian Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has already approved thirteen GM wheat field trials in five states and territories across Australia[2] and commercial varieties could be authorised as soon as 2015[3]. Wheat is Australia’s most important agricultural commodity with an estimated gross value of $7.5 billion in 2011-2012[4]. From the USDA findings and many example of contamination around the globe[5], it is clear the cultivation of GM wheat carries unacceptable contamination risks for farmers and consumers.

In September last year, molecular biologist and risk assessment researcher Professor Jack Heinemann of the University of Canterbury, NZ, and Associate Professor Judy Carman, biochemist at Flinders University warned that GM wheat using dsRNA technology may cause Glycogen Storage Disease IV, resulting in an enlarged liver, cirrhosis of the liver, and failure to thrive[6]. The objective of dsRNA technology is not to produce a protein, as in GM crops already commercialised, but rather to prevent a protein being produced. This new technology is still the source of many surprises to researchers and is prone to unexpected and unpredictable effects that have not been considered in the risk assessments done by the OGTR.

A 2013 report[7] from the Safe Food Foundation, Gene Ethics, the Network of Concerned Farmers, Madge, FoodWatch and Sagfin details the results of an extensive investigation into the attitudes towards GM wheat of major wheat buying companies in Australia and in key export markets. Twenty-five major food companies, including Barilla, Bakers Delight, Coles, Sanitarium, and General Mills, stated that they are not interested in buying GM wheat, or have a policy excluding all GM ingredients. There concerns give a clear indication that our existing Australian wheat markets would be jeopardised by the introduction of GM wheat or contamination of our wheat supply.

GM wheat commercialisation poses an unacceptable threat to Australia’s billion dollar wheat industry. Given the risks to consumers, wheat farmers and the food industry, the Safe Food Foundation is calling the Governments to create a secure future for Australian wheat by adopting and implementing policies to ban open air GM wheat field trials and to revoke any plan to commercialise GM wheat in Australia.

For comment :
Scott Kinnear, Safe Food Foundation director :  0419 881 729

[1]      http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2013/05/ge_wheat_detection.shtml

[2]      Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, 2012. Fact Sheet – GM wheat field trial approvals. [online] Available at: <http://www.ogtr.gov.au/internet/ogtr/publishing.nsf/content/gmwheatfactsheet-htm> [Accessed  30 May 2013].

[3]      CSIRO, 2008. GM wheat and barley trial, OGTR application DIR093. Food Futures Flagship. [pdf] Available at: <http://www.csiro.au/files/files/pr3w.pdf> [Accessed 30 May 2013].

[4]      Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012. ABS 7501.0 – Value of Principal Agricultural Commodities Produced, Australia, Preliminary, 2011-2012. Canberra: ABS.
[5]     Biosafety Clearing House. Convention on Biological Diversity, 2009. Biosafety Information Resource. [online] Available at: <http://bch.cbd.int/database/record.shtml?documentid=42132> [Accessed 10 December 2012].

[6]      http://safefoodfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/SFF-media-release-SCIENTISTS-WARN-ON-CSIRO-GM-WHEAT-THREAT1.pdf

[7]      Safe Food Foundation, Gene Ethics, Network of Concerned Farmers, Madge, FoodWatch, Sagfin, 2012. No appetite for Australian GM wheat. [pdf] Available at:<http://safefoodfoundation.org/2013/05/06/no-appetite-for-australian-gm-wheat>

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