"Victoria's 'more digestible' Genetically Manipulated (GM) pasture grass experiment announced today is a waste of public money," says Gene Ethics Director, Bob Phelps.
"These scientific resources are needed right now to develop and deploy ecological systems that can drought proof, desalinate and restore soil fertility on farms.
"An integrated, whole-of-landscape approach to sustainable farm management is the only way off the brink of permanent rural destruction.
"The 'bright idea' of more digestible GM grass would make farmers more dependent on expensive and vanishing stocks of oil, synthetic fertilisers and chemicals," he says.
"Farmers need to be helped off the petro-chemical and GM treadmills with smart integrated landscape and vegetation management systems.
"High technology, patented, gee-whizz GM plants cannot reverse the drought, biodiversity loss and collapse of nutrient cycling that is crippling farm production.
"More digestible GM grass is just a boffin's idea that makes sense in the laboratory but will fall at the first environmental hurdle.
"Their plan to test 500 different GM lines until 2012 shows this experiment is just a fishing expedition," Mr Phelps says.
"The probability of commercial GM grass is very low as GM technology is flawed and any product would take at least a decade to bring to market.
"The GM grass will not be fed to animals as part of the GM research. I see history repeating itself.
"Like CSIRO's weevil resistant field pea research, the GM grass may prove to be toxic to animals after hundreds of millions of dollars and ten years have been wasted.
"In the USA in 1996, Monsanto launched four GM crops - soy, corn, canola and cotton - with just two traits - herbicide tolerance and Bt insect toxins. In 2008, Monsanto has only the same four crops with two traits available!
"GM is a stalled and failed technology. If we were still using Windows '95 we'd also wonder," Mr Phelps concludes.
Comment: Bob Phelps 03 9347 4500/0449 769 066
Victorian Ministers for Innovation and Agriculture
Tuesday, 28 October, 2008
NEW HIGH ENERGY PASTURE GOES ON TRIAL
The Brumby Government has announced the first Australian field trials of high-energy pasture grasses are set to start in Victoria soon.
Minister for Innovation Gavin Jennings and Minister for Agriculture Joe Helper made the announcement today to coincide with Ausbiotech 2008 which is underway in Melbourne.
"These new grasses have a reduced non-digestible content which, depending on the field trials, could mean farmers will be able to reduce the amount of feed they require for their stock," Mr Jennings said.
"This would be a critical breakthrough for dairy, beef and sheep industries which have less pasture available for stock because of climate change and the prolonged drought."
Mr Helper said the trials will focus on pasture based on perennial ryegrass and tall fescue that have been developed by Victorian scientists at the Department of Primary Industries.
"The Federal Gene Technology Regulator has granted a licence to plant up to 500 GM lines of these pasture varieties as part of a small field trial to be undertaken at the DPI Hamilton site."
"The trials are for proof-of-concept research and not for commercial release. But this research may give farmers access to new pasture plant genetics with improved quality and energy content for livestock production.
"The development and adoption of new pasture plant genetics with increased nutritive value could lead to increased on-farm productivity, and may also help reduce the amount of feed farmers need to buy-in when they have feed shortages.
These trials are the latest in a series of research breakthroughs from the DPI that are providing on-the-ground benefits and helping ensure Victorian farmers remain competitive in both domestic and international markets.
DPI Biosciences Research Division Executive Director Professor German Spangenberg said the new technologies allowed for a targeted modification of lignin and fructan production in perennial ryegrass and tall fescue.
"Lignin provides the water proofing of fibrous parts of pasture that can't be easily digested by livestock and therefore can't be converted to energy for grazing animals. Fructans are soluble carbohydrates that provide a readily available energy source to livestock," Prof Spangenberg said.
"By modifying lignification and enhancing fructan production in these plants, the herbage nutritive value is increased and stock can gain more energy from less pasture.
"Laboratory and glasshouse trials have been carried out on the pastures by the research team working within the Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre.
"The experimental GM grasses to be tested will not be used for animal feed."