A BROAD cross-section of the Australian wheat growing sector has thrown its weight behind continued research and development in the genetically modified (GM) wheat space.
As previously reported by FarmOnline, six Australian grain grower and industry groups have signed up to the GM Wheat trilateral statement, along with counterparts from Canada and the US, all supporting the development of GM wheat.
However, in spite of support from grower groups in WA, SA, Victoria and Queensland, the statement was as notable for who did not sign it as who did, with some of the major farming groups in the nation’s two biggest producing states, WA and NSW, not participating.
The statement comes out on the fifth anniversary of the first trilateral statement.
Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman Andrew Weidemann said his organisation was excited by the research going on in GM wheat and the potential for breakthroughs in areas such as salt, drought and frost tolerance.
“To date, no GM wheat has been commercialised in the world, however, significant research is underway in Australia and around the world to improve wheat varieties,” he said.
Mr Weidemann said fears about the safety of GM food crops were unfounded.
“Genetically modified crops are now 18 years old. In 2013, 175 million hectares of GM crops were planted in 27 countries.”
John Snooke, chairman of PGA Western Grain Growers in WA said GM wheat research was exciting for growers.
“It will only be matter of time before researcher identify and work with a trait will be useful for farmers and consumers,” he said.
Mr Snooke said the Aussie grains industry had proven it had the necessary supply chain requirements in place for co-existence with the example of GM canola.
“If you can separate canola, with its small seed, you certainly can do it with wheat.”
One of the big hurdles with GM wheat has been a lack of a path to market.
Mr Snooke said he had no doubt there would be a market for a GM wheat product.
“What we have to do is engage with the buyers and develop a market from there.”
He said there was a precedent in the Canadian canola industry where lobbyists developed the market for the product after it had been grown.
In terms of the backlash to GM food crops, Mr Snooke said every year that went by without incident was convincing more people of the safety of GM food crops.
“The rational factor is winning out.”
WAFarmers grains council president Kim Simpson had a markedly different take to Mr Snooke, suggesting the statement was little more than a push by the biotech sector to get a crop onto the world stage whether it was wanted or not.
“Biotech companies desperately want the world to produce GM wheat but they’re scared of the consumer backlash,” he said.
“No particular country in the wheat-growing world wants to be first for that very reason.”
Mr Simpson said his organisation was not anti-GM, with over half the grains council growing GM canola, but he said there was not enough known about GM wheat yet to support the statement.
“We weren’t happy with it despite having nothing against GM crops on the whole, we were also concerned GM wheat could do more damage to our WA wheat markets than good.”
Mr Simpson said WAFarmers’ position on biotechnology had always been considerate of individual farmers and the markets they supply to.
“We support agricultural progression and as long as there’s a market for the product, growers should have the choice as to what it is they want to grow,” he said.