Greenpeace scientist tours Australia to debate the risks of GM wheat

Feature Story - 18 October, 2011
Dr Janet Cotter, Senior Scientist from Greenpeace International Science Unit, brings ten years’ experience researching genetically modified (GM) crops Downunder. Dr Cotter is touring Australia this week to discuss GM wheat safety concerns and contamination risks. It is a critical time as Australia stands to be the first country in the world to commercialise GM wheat.

Growing GM crops poses many risks, not least is the risk that they may contaminate conventional crops and wild vegetation. In Australia, recent contamination events at Steve Marsh’s organic farm at Kojonup, a GM canola spill in Williams and the flooding of Bob Mackely’s farm in Victoria have made contamination risks real, especially in the lives of farmers and rural communities.

In 2006-07, an experimental GM rice plantation in the US led to contamination of the global rice supply reaching to distant African, Asian and European markets. In July this year, Bayer eventually agreed to a US $750 million settlement resolving claims with around 11,000 U.S. farmers for market loses and clean-up costs for the GM contamination. The total costs to the rice industry are likely to have been over US $1 billion worldwide.

This contamination occurred in field trials not dissimilar to the GM wheat trials taking place in Australia. And contamination is not the only risk we face. The GM wheat currently being trialed is modified using a technique called RNA interference.  This is very new science, which is not well understood - scientists are making new discoveries all the time. (See for example, an article in Cell Research a few weeks ago). It is simply not possible to properly control for health risks under these circumstances.

Dr Cotter joins the scientific debate in Australia to stress the health and environmental risks associated with GM experiments. Earlier this week in Canberra, Dr Cotter met with parliamentarians and policy makers, as well as debating Dr Mark Tester from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics on ABC radio.  

In Perth, Mick Murray, WA Shadow Minister for Agriculture, will host a parliamentary briefing by Dr Cotter, and next week, Dr Cotter will make appearances in Adelaide and Sydney.

Talking to politicians, journalists, farmers and concerned consumers, Dr Cotter will highlight inherent safety problems with techniques used in Australia's GM wheat, proposing a shift of investment to safe, reliable and effective modern plant breeding tools, such as Marker Assisted Selection.

In line with 400 leading agricultural scientists under the auspices of various United Nations agencies, Dr Cotter also advocates ecological farming solutions for drought, climate risk and other agricultural challenges.

Have your say: Tell the Prime Minister you won’t swallow GM wheat.

Find out more:
Follow some of the recent coverage of Dr Cotter’s visit:

•    Dr Cotter helps WA Farmers Federation see dangers, ABC online
•    Dr Cotter debates Mark Tester, ABC radio
•    Busting GM  myths, The Conversation
•    A blog written by Dr Janet Cotter
•    Dr Cotter debates genetically modified food, ABC Rural