News 2099 views last update:6 Aug 2012

Australian scientists push for GM wheat

CSIRO has applied to the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator to release up to 232 GM-wheat ''lines'', or plants derived from a single genetically-modified plant, and 41 barley lines from May next year. The plan will be put out for public consultation next month.

Australia's peak science body is seeking approval to release genetically-modified wheat, in what is understood to be the Australian Capital Territory's first field trial of GM crops. CSIRO has also sought permission to test flour made from GM wheat in small-scale human and animal feeding trials.
''Flour derived from the grain of a few GM wheat and barley lines with altered grain composition is proposed to be used for a range of carefully controlled, small-scale animal and human nutritional feeding trials under the oversight of CSIRO,'' the application reads.
But the agency maintains it has no concrete plans, including schedules or ethics approvals, to test its GM crops on humans.
''We have applied for permission to conduct human trials in the event that the research project gets to that stage, but we currently have no plans in train to conduct human trials,'' spokesman Owen Craig said.
CSIRO says by releasing the GM wheat and barley into a controlled crop, it can establish how well the crops fare in ''rain-fed'', drought-prone, and fungal disease-prone environments.
The 2.3ha site would be planted between next May and June 2017.
It would be fenced to limit the access of animals to the site, covered with a bird net, and located at least 1km from waterways with an exclusion zone surrounding it.
Greenpeace, which has strongly opposed the development of GM wheat lines, was refused access to ''any documents held by CSIRO detailing planned methodologies for the testing on humans of foodstuffs produced by genetically-modified organisms'' in August.
The agency advised that it held six documents, including email correspondence detailing ''tasks and timelines'' between CSIRO and a commercial partner, and an application to CSIRO's human research ethics committee.
However, it declined to release these documents, citing commercial-in-confidence reasons.
Earlier this month Greenpeace tried again, seeking information CSIRO held about the impacts of GM wheat, but was refused access to one document that had been classified commercial-in-confidence. Two other documents were partially released.
Craig said the agency wanted to educate the public about the benefits of GM wheat, including rust-resistant strains.
Greenpeace prosecution
Two Greenpeace activists were charged on summons last week for destroying a CSIRO GM wheat crop in Canberra on July 14. The pair will face court on December 12.

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