False promises of GM rice research

Posted by Josette Dunn on 15th September 2010

The Centre for Plant Functional Genomics has not applied to the Office of Gene Technology Regulator for a licence to research or trial salt tolerant rice. Yet the centre wildly claims that genetically manipulated (GM) rice ‘offers hope for the global food supply’.

rice_bowl_lg.jpg “Without an application to the regulator, this research can only test an idea in the most basic way and is decades away from any commercial application,” says Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps.

“The reality of hot air claims by GM scientists who dip into the public purse must be checked to stop the waste of scarce public research funds on failed GM projects. No GM rice has passed any safety tests or public health hurdles anywhere and it is not grown commercially.

“In a recent Catalyst program * these researchers agreed that reviving our soils is a valid response to salty farmlands. But they dismissed the soil management option as too hard, without discussion, and advocated for the expensive, patentable, high-tech, GM option.

“To ensure food security for future generations of Australians, our public research should focus instead on sustainable farming systems that respond to the end of oil and phosphates, scarce land and water resources, and global climate change,” My Phelps says.

“But now corporate interests dominate the public sector too. Every public research team is compromised by having contracts with GM giants. For instance, last week Monsanto acquired 20% of Western Australia’s public plant breeding program InterGrain and as a result of the deal Intergrain now has GM wheat on its research agenda.

“Monsanto owns over 90% of GM crops and 26% of all commercial seed supplies globally.

“There is little prospect of commercial success from the centre’s work with rice because the drought tolerance trait is mediated by multiple genes interacting in the plant genome. Such muti-genic traits are just too complex for crude GM cut and paste techniques to work.

“Despite 30 years of research, the only commercially viable GM crops to date are the transfer of two single genes from soil bacteria – Roundup herbicide tolerance and Bt insect toxins. Only herbicide tolerant and insect resistant soybean, corn, canola, cotton and alfalfa have been commercialised.

“Drought and salt tolerant plants, nitrogen fixation in grains and more nutritious foods that rely on multiple genes cannot be manipulated using GM techniques.

“Governments should now reality test the false promises made by GM interests and should conclude that it’s time to abandon this hopeless GM adventure.

“Let’s get our research priorities aligned with reality, not GM fantasy,” Mr Phelps concludes.