SHADOW biotechnology minister Barry House and shadow agriculture minister Gary Snook have joined for

21 Mar, 2007 08:45 PM
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Grain Biotech Australia (GBA) is one such research company facing closure.

GBA has been in the news in recent years for its extensive research into salt and frost tolerance in wheat, with its latest findings revealing additional benefits in improving wheat quality.

But despite its ground-breaking success the company faces an uncertain future due to a lack of government funding.

Mr Snook said GBA¹s ability to genetically modify standard commercial varieties of wheat was ³particularly unique² and profitable.

³I am told this research has the potential to give WA farmers an increase of $23 a tonne for their product at today¹s prices,² Mr Snook said.

³This research could provide enormous benefits to the agricultural industry in WA and in light of this it is extremely disappointing that their efforts to get state funding have failed.

³You have the government discouraging investment into GMO (genetically modified organism) research with its current moratorium into GM crops and you have them refusing to give these companies any start-up assistance.

³What this government clearly does not realise is that this research has the potential to address current environmental concerns and benefit one of our biggest employment and export sectors.²

Mr House said he had been in contact with GBA for 12 months and was disappointed at its bleak prospects given the standard of research it was undertaking.

³The possible demise of GBA is a sad reflection on the lack of State Government support facing many WA biotech companies,² Mr House said.

³I understand that at a recent meeting between the biotech industry and the Department of Industry and Resources it was revealed that this government has no money for biotechnology companies from this year¹s $72 million science budget.

³This is a joke when you consider all of the rhetoric spouted by this government about encouraging a biotech industry in WA.

³If the government is serious about developing a new industry in this state then it has to start making some meaningful commitments to it.

³Start-up companies receive no support.²

Mr House said the Carpenter Labor government announced a commitment of $4 million in pre-seed funding to biotech companies in 2006, as part of the biotech strategy.

³Even this commitment of $1m each year for four years would be useful but we have not heard anything since and none of the money has actually Œhit the ground¹,² he said.

³The Federal Government offers grant funding to reasonably well-established companies and I would like to see the state provide some to leverage the smaller companies to that level.

³The Liberal Party supports the provision of a clear pathway to market for innovative companies developing this science.

³GBA¹s latest findings are, on the face of it, a good news story for WA¹s wheat industry.

³Further, this biotechnology has huge potential but is faced with a government that does not understand what that potential is.

³They certainly don¹t seem to support it.²

GBA says it achieved a surprise bonus result from field trials of its salt-tolerant wheat conducted in 2005 at a licensed field site near Corrigin.

GBA business development manager Alan Tough said the modified Westonia and Carnamah varieties used in the trials had demonstrated significant improvement in grain quality when tested for flour properties.

³The modified Westonia has achieved a prime hard rating against the normal soft wheat grade of the standard version,² Mr Tough said.

³If used this would give farmers an increase at today¹s prices of approximately $23/t.

³GBA believes that these results put paid to the long standing belief that prime hard wheat cannot be grown in WA and raises the exciting possibility that similar gains can be made in other well used varieties in WA.²

Mr Tough is due to meet next Monday with the State Government to discuss GBA¹s future in more detail following lengthy delays in scheduling the meeting.

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