UP and coming Australian young farm industry leader Hollie Baillieu has praised moves to increase public debate on biotechnology, or Genetically Modified crops, using more fact-based information and less emotive arguments.
The NSW Farmers Association Young Farmers Chair welcomed the official launch of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) at Parliament House in Canberra recently.
The launch was timed to coincide with the Science Meets Parliament event in Canberra.
More than 200 scientists held a range of meetings with Federal MPs and Senators urging all sides of politics to pay as much attention to science, as they do to economics and short-term political considerations, while maintaining funding support.
The ABCA is a joint initiative of AusBiotech, CropLife Australia, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the National Farmers’ Federation.
Ms Baillieu said biotechnology wasn’t necessarily the “answer” to feeding the world’s growing population.
But she said it was an exciting field of opportunity for the nation’s farmers to explore, through a more informed, factual debate with less emotive hype.
She said the “antagonistic” behaviour around the GM debate needed to stop, amongst farmers and others, as they shared similar values on profitability and environmental sustainability and feeding the world’s future food in-secure population.
“GM isn’t scary it’s forward thinking and that’s why I’d like to see the level of communication increased,” she said.
Ms Baillieu said her “city cousins” suffered from a lack of fact based information on biotechnology and the benefits it brings for farmers, while other industry sectors also lacked a general understanding of the science.
She said farming suffered from a lack of new entrants and an ageing work-force – but biotechnology had the capacity to attract new entrants and sustain participants through improved profitability and crop yields.
GM cotton is an “amazing” example of how the technology can be used by Australian farmers to perform successfully for the environment with better water use efficiency and reduced chemical use, while adding to profitability, she said.
Ms Baillieu said the Council would be able to refer to the GM cotton experience to help provide fact-based information to the general public, of a real life example.
Inaugural ABCA Chair Claude Gauchat said the new organisation was established to help shape a new era for Australian agriculture by encouraging informed debate on biotechnology through the dissemination of credible, balanced, science-based information.
“As the world’s farming sector seeks to double production to meet the food and nutritional requirements of the growing global population, we have a moral imperative to encourage and develop all potential tools and technologies that will aid farmers in producing more with less, sustainably,” he said.
“The Council’s mission is guided by this global food security challenge and the role that Australian agriculture can play in leading the world into a future free from hunger and malnutrition.
“Through the creation and sharing of research and knowledge, ABCA’s work aims to place biotechnology and gene technology into context as another invaluable innovation for Australian agriculture; ensuring that science guides public policy for the future of farming.”
Mr Gauchat said ABCA would strive to ensure that the public policy and regulatory environment was guided by scientifically credible and factually correct information regarding the full benefits that agricultural biotechnology offers to Australian farming.
He said the Council’s role would be to the national coordinating organisation for the Australian agricultural biotechnology sector.
The Council’s Co-Patrons will be former deputy-prime minister John Anderson and the former chairperson of CSIRO and Lieutenant Governor of Victoria Professor Adrienne Clarke.
Mr Anderson commended the Council’s founding members for their foresight and commitment in establishing the “important organisation”.
“I look forward to the great work that the Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia will do in assisting the nation’s farming effort,” he said.
Professor Clarke highlighted the importance of scientific innovation to agricultural productivity.
“Science is at the core of farming and science-based evidence needs to be the guiding framework for public policy concerning agriculture,” she said.
“If we are to have any chance of meeting the challenges posed by future food security needs, farmers must have the choice to use the technologies suited to their particular circumstances and access to all the tools we can find, to achieve the full potential of Australian food, feed and fibre production.”
Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said the Australian Government welcomed the further engagement by industry in the biotechnology space that the ABCA would provide.
“The Australian Government considers that agricultural biotechnology can play an important part in helping to deal with emerging challenges, including those arising from climate change, pressure on global food supplies and the management of pests and diseases,” he said.
“In the National Food Plan green paper, the government is seeking feedback on its proposal to work with the states and territories towards developing a national strategy on the consistent application of modern biotechnology in agriculture.
“The strategy would consider constraints to the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture - including genetically modified crops - and outline a clear path to market for emerging biotechnology applications where appropriate.”