The term “GM” conjures up scary images for many in our society. The image of mad scientists sitting around and fiddling with plants and animals to create new things is often not far from the perception that many have about this science.
The CSIRO’s Chief Executive, Megan Clark, said “We recognise that the modification of genes in plants causes concern in sections of the community. However, we also know that many people will be comfortable with genetic modification in food products if they can be assured they are beneficial for human health and safe for the environment. We research the genes of plants to improve human health outcomes, increase the take-up of nutrients from soil, improve yields and provide resistance to plant diseases. Our genetic modification research generally involves turning off genes, changing the timing of the expression of some genes or inserting genes from different plants.”
Genetic modification, or GM, is a highly skilled science that modifies the genes of animals and plants to give or improve specific characteristics. As an example; Golden Rice is a GM product designed to give a large proportion of the world’s population access to more Vitamin A. By adding a gene into a rice species, scientists have added Vitamin A to this vital crop and allowing for a deficiency in this essential nutrient to be addressed in an easy and effective way.
By genetically modifying plants, scientists have been able to increase production, reduce pesticide use and other positive advances.
Ms Clark said; “When it comes to our food supply, the world’s population could reach 9 billion by 2050 and the global challenge is to produce 70 per cent more food in the next 40 years. To meet that food demand we need to increase our agricultural yields and increase the efficiency of how plants take up nutrients. It means growing plants that use less water to produce the same output and improving resistance to disease and pests. Across the very extensive and prolonged use worldwide, there has been no evidence of harm to human health associated with the use of GM technology. In Australia we’ve been growing and consuming GM products for at least 15 years with GM cotton and carnations grown commercially since 1996 and GM canola since 2008.”
In Australia, GM foods are regulated by the Gene Technology Regulator. Food Standards Australia New Zealand has produced a series of terrific Fact Sheets about GM which are well worth a read and can be found at http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumerinformation/gmfoods/