Feds say GM discussion offers solution to GHG challenge

As reports on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to be rolled out, it was the government’s reaction to another report – the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on genetic engineering – that caught Federated Farmers’ attention.

Federation president and climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said farmers were intensely interested in further reducing their world-leading GHG emissions footprint per kilogram of food produced.

But the federation has been saying for several years that new tools are needed to do this.

“Genetic modification is one of those new technologies that offers exciting potential,” he said.

Last year, the Productivity Commission’s ‘Reaching for the Frontier’ final report said the Government should undertake a full review of the regulation of genetic modification (GM), to ensure it is fit for purpose and supports domestic innovation. Continue reading

Australian regulatory curbs on genetic modification to be eased

Australia is set to reform how it regulates new genetic engineering techniques, which experts say will help to dramatically speed up health and agriculture research.

According to a report from the ABC, the changes are expected to enable agricultural scientists to breed higher yielding crops faster and cheaper, or ones resistant to drought and disease.

Australia’s gene technology regulator Raj Bhula has proposed reducing regulations around gene editing techniques such as CRISPR, following a 12 month technical review into the current regulations.

The most radical change put forward by the regulator is that some of the more efficient and newer genetic technologies, known as gene editing, would not be considered “genetic modification”.

“With gene editing you don’t always have to use genetic material from another organism, it is just editing the [existing] material within the organism,” Dr Bhula said.

“All of our regulatory frameworks and laws have been established based on people putting unrelated genetic material into another organism.

“Whereas this process is just manipulation within the organism and not introducing anything foreign.”

Under current Australian legislation, a genetically modified organism (GMO) is broadly defined as an organism that has been modified by gene technology, and is subject to heavy regulation.

Genetically modified crops have been available for decades and some are already widely used in Australian agriculture, particularly cotton and canola.

Scimex  reports expert reaction HERE. 

US court ruling hailed as good news for bees

GE Free NZ has welcomed the the US Appeal Court’s cancellation of the approval for the Dow Agrosciences chemical Sulfoxaflor, a neonicotinoid, because it is considered highly toxic to bees. The ruling said “the federal regulators erred in allowing the insecticide onto the market.”

A press statement from GE Free NZ says many seeds for crops are sprayed or coated with the neonicotinoid insecticide, these have a persistent systemic toxic effect over the life time of the plant and are found in the pollen, flesh and honey sourced from the crops

Genetically engineered corn seeds are routinely coated with neonicotinoids. These GE seeds and are sourced to make high fructose corn syrup which is increasingly being used to feed bees over winter.

The New Zealand Environmental Protection Agency approved the importation and manufacture of the Sulfoxaflor neonicotinoid in 2013. The EPA committee decision said that they would have negligible adverse effects for human health and to the environment and there will be benefits associated with its release”.

“New Zealand has had a massive die off of bees this year and it could be linked to pesticides such as Sulfoxaflor” said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ. “We call on the EPA to follow the US directive and immediately remove all Sulfoxaflor neonicotinoids from use and cancel their registration”.

The Environmental Protection Act which set up the NZ EPA from the earlier Environmental Risk Management Authority requires it to consider “international obligations” which over ride its environmental responsibilities.

Submissions have closed on an amendment to the EPA Act that requires the authority to maintain, protect and enhance the environment.

Canadian researchers genetically design trees that make it easier to produce pulp and biofuel

Canadian researchers have genetically engineered trees that will be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel.

Their breakthrough will mean fewer chemicals and less energy are used in paper and biofuel production and fewer environmental pollutants are created.

The research findings were announced in a university media statement.

“One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin,” says Shawn Mansfield, a professor of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.

Continue reading

Soil and Health Assn fears new gene technologies are slipping under the GE radar

The Soil and Health Association says a new gene-splitting technique must be defined as genetic engineering. If not, it contends, more new techniques like it may be used in crops, food and other products without public knowledge and with unknown consequences.

The association is referring to zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), a class of engineered DNA-binding proteins that facilitate targeted editing of the genome by creating double-strand breaks in DNA at user-specified locations.

“There is a raft of new technologies being developed that are the next wave of genetic engineering,” says Marion Thomson, co-chair of Soil & Health – Organic NZ.

“These new technologies must be thoroughly and independently scrutinised and the precautionary principle applied. Otherwise, it’s an uncontrolled experiment that could have adverse effects for people, animals and the environment.”

The Soil & Health Association commends the Sustainability Council for challenging a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority that zinc finger nuclease is not genetic engineering.

The EPA committee that made the decision went against staff advice, the assocation says.

The case will be heard in the High Court in Wellington in November.

‘Pig 26’ is hailed as a pointer to a more acceptable way of producing GM food

British scientists are reported to have produced a disease-resistant piglet using a new technique which is simpler than cloning and could bring GM meat a step closer.

The method of creating genetically-modified animals addresses one of the principal objections of the anti-GM movement.

The “gene-editing” technique was developed at the Roslin Institute, the laboratory which created Dolly the sheep.

Continue reading