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2011 Autumn - Can agriculture manage a genetically modified future

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FPJ0801 - Constable et al, An industry transformed- the impact of GM technology on Australian cotton production

Transgenicor genetically modified (GM)cotton has been gradually released and adopted by Australian cotton growers since 1996, and now dominates domestic production. The cotton plant traits made accessible to farmers through GM technology have firstly been resistance to the main insect pest, Helicoverpa spp, and resistance to the herbicide glyphosate. The availability of these traits in GM cotton cultivars has addressed two of the main cotton pest and weed production challenges, the control of which was earlier pushing the industry towards unsustainable levels of dependence on chemical pesticides. Research in the five years prior to 1996 provided an understanding of regulatory issues that needed to be resolved before commercial GM cotton release, formulated resistance management strategies to ensure the longevity of the traits and bred locally adapted cultivars with the GM traits to ensure agronomic performance was maintained. The Australian system for regulating GM products also evolved through that time from the more peer-review basis of the Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee to the fully legislated Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. To address issues of concern for the regulatory system: 1. successful containment of the GM traits was demonstrated during early field research 2. absence of any significant non-target effects to health and the environment were confirmed 3. successful resistance management plans were developed that are now part of the formal licence conditions for farmers using these technologies. The first generation GM cotton trait (Ingard) incorporated a gene imparting insect control and resulted in insecticide applications being reduced by 45% over the seven years it was used, but in order to manage potential resistance in the target pests its cultivation was limited to 30% of the total area on individual farms, so whole of industry impacts were not large. The second generation GM insect control trait (Bollgard II) was allowed to be grown more widely (over 90% of plantings in 2010) and has reduced insecticide applications by up to 80% across the entire industry. Two versions of a GM trait conferring resistance to the herbicide glyphosate have been released and the latest product (Roundup Ready Flex) allows a weed control system where glyphosate replaces prophylactic residual herbicides. With improved cultivars containing these traits and carefully thought out science-based management systems for insect and weed control the cotton industry has shifted to almost complete adoption of GM cotton cultivars (98.5% in 2010). This has allowed the Australian cotton industry to continue to improve yield and productivity while also significantly reducing pesticide usage and transformed it into a very different industry from what it was just a decade ago.

Constable G, Llewellyn D, Wilson L, Stiller W - An industry transformed: the impact of GM technology on Australian cotton production
Farm Policy Journal Autumn 2011, Volume 8, Number 1, pp. 23-41

Biotechnology, GM, GMO, Genetically modified agriculture, Australia 



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