ANIMAL feeding trials have already been conducted on Genetically Modified wheat in Australia using rats in the past two or three years, while a pig trial was held earlier this year, according to CSIRO plant industry chief, Jeremy Burdon.
Dr Burdon said data from the rat feeding trial had already been published and the pig trial data was currently under analysis.
He said an assessment would be made of all data to decide whether the GM wheat trials “will do what they said they will do”.
Dr Burdon said there was no indication of negative effects in the animal feeding trials and if there was “we would have pulled the pin on the process”.
He said the company behind the research, Arista, which is owned by CSIRO, the Grains Research and Development Corporation and the French company Limagrain, had applied to the OGTR for permission to conduct a human feeding trial which had been granted.
But the regulator is yet to decide when that aspect of the research will move ahead, he said.
“The whole process is controlled by the OGTR and other regulations and CSIRO takes all of them very seriously,” he said.
“What we have done so far is only a small part of a long rigorous process of testing that takes place.
“If we were to release anything on GM wheat, it would need to pass all of the requirements in that regulatory process, before being commercialised.
“It’s a long sequence of testing that’s very rigorous, before anything gets into any markets.
“But it’s simply misleading if you choose to only focus on one very small part of a longer chain of processes or a small part of a very large jigsaw, which is what they (Greenpeace) are doing.
“We take each of those steps very seriously and look closely at the results.
“A few years ago we had a totally unrelated study where we put a gene into legumes, and there was a mild allergenic reaction that was slightly negative so it was aborted and we won’t go back to that.”
After the Greenpeace attack on its GM wheat trials on July 14, CSIRO has increased security at the Canberra trial site but will need to consider how long that heightened approach can continue, due to added costs.
Dr Burdon said there were no confirmed reports of other criminal damage to GM wheat trials since that attack but stressed they would remain vigilant with security.
He said the CSIRO GM wheat trial at Ginninderra on the outskirts of Canberra was one of several trials being conducted throughout Australia and was developing high amylose wheat.
Starch with high amylose content of greater than 50 percent is a valuable fibre source with known health benefits including reducing colon cancer and lowering GI (Glycemic Index).
Dr Burdon said CSIRO would assess the damage caused by Greenpeace and see how far the trial can grow back and then make an assessment on where to go to in terms of its “interaction with people who did the damage”.
He said the research would continue next year in line with the trial’s purposes, because it was too late to replant this year.
Dr Burdon said suggestions CSIRO had a conflict of interest in conducting the GM wheat research, was one of many false and misleading claims being made by Greenpeace, as part of its ongoing campaign to prevent the technology’s development in Australia.
“CSIRO works with a lot of agencies here and overseas and we are proud of that,” he said.
“We work in a collaborative sense and share and provide resources, like germplasm.
“The others do that too and share their resources with us.
“The drive for doing that here in Australia is to ensure we can release things efficiently and effectively, through working with universities and organisations, sharing data and working collectively.
“They provide intellectual property, knowhow and skills that we certainly don’t have and by doing this it gives the best chance for Australian producers and the community to see positive results at the earliest possible stage.
“There’s nothing abnormal about these relationships and certainly nothing secretive.
“There are commercial in confidence issues, but nothing there’s untoward about that and other industries certainly have similar issues regarding the confidentiality and privacy of their work.
“Greenpeace have it wrong as we do not work with Monsanto in wheat.
“We have interactions with them in cotton but not wheat.
“We don’t have any research relationship with Monsanto in wheat but we do with other companies like Bayer.”
In damaging the Canberra scientific trials, Greenpeace called on CSIRO to publicly reveal the corporate relationships behind the GM wheat trials, also implying Monsanto’s involvement as a co-owner of InterGrain in WA.
Greenpeace Food Campaigner Laura Kelly said “Australia needs CSIRO to be strong and independent, but their closeness with foreign GM companies has created a clear conflict of interest”.
“Greenpeace has repeatedly called on CSIRO to reveal the precise nature of its corporate links: something they have failed to do, even denying Freedom of Information requests,” she said.
Outside of Canberra, CSIRO operates GM trial sites at Narrabri in NSW and Merredin in WA.
A range of different trials are underway at each site at any given point in time, including GM wheat and barley projects.
Other government approved GM trials, for wheat and barley, are being conducted at the Adelaide University through the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), and the Victorian Department of Agriculture, to increase health and yield benefits, as well as enhanced drought tolerance and nutrient efficiency.
Dale Baker is Chairman of ACPFG and InterGrain.
Mr Baker said InterGrain was not at the stage of conducting any GM wheat trials and would not be “for a few years”.
But he said ACPFG was holding safe and approved trials in conjunction with the CSIRO.