How exactly the genes were altered to create this alleged more nutritious bread remains a secret. All that is known is that 14 different strains of wheat and barley will be grown. Some strains will allow researchers to look at enriching the crops with extra nutrients, and others will look at using nitrogen in the soil more efficiently, which could mean higher productivity with less fertilizer.
The CSIRO, which is running the three-year experiment, said the gene combinations in the trial are secret because they are subject to commercial-in-confidence agreements that protect the interests of the government research agencies involved and a U.S. company, Arcadia Biosciences.
Environmental groups and organic farmers oppose the GM trial, arguing that it is quite possible, and even likely, for the GM wheat and barley to mix with natural strains and ‘contaminate’ some of Australia’s wheat crop with the genetic modification.
Environmental group Greenpeace opposes the trial, furthermore, because the safety of the modified crops for human and animal consumption has not been tested in any scientific trials.
The CSIRO says it will follow the safety requirements of the license issued by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
“The risk assessment concluded that this proposed limited and controlled release … poses negligible risks to the health and safety of people or the environment as a result of gene technology,” the gene technology regulator said.
Certain safety measures will also be taken, according to Dr. Matthew Morell, a researcher with the CSIRO’s Future Food division.
“[The GM crops] will be separated from other crops by 200 meters, and wheat pollen travels about one meter, so it is highly unlike any will be found beyond that,’ Morell said. ‘Because these are patented technologies, there is still a need for restricting the details in terms of protecting commercial information.”
Greenpeace is not buying it, saying that GM trail crops can easily break containment through human error, as past cases show. In one instance, seeds from a GM canola crop in NSW appear to have spilled from trucks driving down roads near an experimental farm, spreading the seeds and potentially contaminating organic farms.
“The Australian government’s decision to go ahead with GM wheat field trials,” said Greenpeace spokeswoman Laura Kelly, “amounts to a covert decision taken on behalf of Australia’s wheat farmers, consumers and export markets that Australian wheat will be GM.”
Sources for this story include: