Australia paves the way for GM wheat
Wheat is the staple food of almost half the world’s population. It is also Australia’s most important agricultural commodity with an estimated gross value of $7.5 billion in 2011-2012. Australia exported 66.8% of its wheat (by volume) in 2010-2011.
Genetically modified (GM) wheat is yet to be commercialised anywhere in the world. Though 43% of the world’s GM crops were grown in the United States in 2011, the US Government has expressed concern about the likely public reaction to the commercial cultivation of GM wheat. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “US food processors are wary of consumer reaction to products containing GM wheat, so no GM wheat is commercially grown in the United States”.
Monsanto also tried to introduce GM wheat in Canada but market and farmer’s pressure not to commercialise convinced Monsanto to withdraw its application in 2004. In a fact sheet entitled “10 reasons why we don’t want GM wheat”. The National Farmers Union explained that one of the main reasons for this rejection was that “segregation is costly and will fail”. They were also very worried about market loss, stating “the international customers that buy 82% of Canada’s wheat crop say that they will stop buying if Canada introduces GM wheat”.
In 2010, Monsanto bought 19.9% of the Western Australian public grains research body, InterGrain with the aim of increasing its share in the future. InterGrain produces 40% to 50% of the wheat varieties sown in Australia.GM wheat research, led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Adelaide and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, is underway in Australia. Commercial varieties could be authorised as soon as 2015. Yet there is still no clear understanding of the health risks and the full impact of commercial GM wheat on Australia’s largest agricultural commodity.
The costs of attempting to avoid GM contamination, and of redressing contamination once it occurs, are currently borne by conventional and organic farmers and ultimately the food industry and taxpayers.