15 November 1999
USA promises GM test for grain

By FWi staff

THE US government has told concerned grain producers that it will help find ways to reliably detect genetically modified grains in shipments.

This follows pressure from grain processors urging customers to segregate bio-engineered crops from conventional commodities.

Some grain buyers are offering a premium for non-GM crops after European and Japanese companies banned bioengineered ingredients.

Now the US agriculture department says it will open a laboratory in its Kansas City office to evaluate and standardise procedures used to test GM traits in grain and soya beans, reports Reuters.

A number of GM testing kits already exist, but some farmers groups and importers question their effectiveness.

Contamination of conventional crops can occur from drifting pollen, as well as during harvesting, handling and transportation.

About one-half of US soya beans and one-third of US corn grown this year were from GM varieties.

As US producers question the wisdom of embracing GM technology, Australia is set to consider the growing bioengineered crops on a large scale.

According to The Age newspaper, some of the worlds leading seed producers, including Monsanto, put in applications last week for approval to sell 13 genetically modified crops to Australia and New Zealand.

At present, there is only one strain of genetically modified crop – cotton – being grown on a commercial basis in Australia.

The applications have been made to the Australian and New Zealand Food Authority.

Nine of the 13 crops include three varieties of maize, two of canola, sugarbeet, cotton, soya beans and “new leaf” potatoes.

The authority has already recommended to the ministerial Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council that Roundup-ready soya beans developed by Monsanto to tolerate glyphosate herbicide be adopted into the food standards code.

The soya bean has been modified to be high in fatty acid known as oleic acid, so that its oil is more stable for cooking.

Opposition to the application is growing, with organic farmers expressing concerns about cross-pollination and contamination of their crops from genetically modified organisms.

In addition, many food manufacturers — concerned about a consumer backlash toward genetically modified foods — may refuse to purchase GM crops.

Meanwhile, in France the farm ministry has released figures showing that GM crops were grown on 291ha in the 1998/1999 crop year.

This comprised GM maize, rapeseed and sugarbeet. GM maize for commercial use was planted on 209ha, of which 132ha were for seed production.

The remaining 82ha were devoted to GM testing — 31ha with maize, 20 with rapeseed and 31 with sugarbeet, reports Reuters.

An unspecified area of GM soya, sunflower seeds, grapes, poplar and cotton was also grown.