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Research shows GM crops can potentially benefit balance sheet and environment

Media release

Curtin University of Technology analysis has highlighted the potential economic and environmental benefits of growing genetically modified (GM) canola in Western Australia.

Researchers James Fisher and Peter Tozer compared Roundup Ready®, a popular brand of GM canola with non-GM, herbicide resistant and conventional systems of canola.

Dr Fisher said GM canola could provide farmers with economic and environmental benefits because it offered higher yields and reduced herbicide use.

“Our analysis found that the profitability of GM canola was equal or superior to other systems of canola,” he said. 

“We also found that the estimated environmental impact of GM canola was less than half that of triazine tolerant canola—currently the most widely used system in WA.”

Although their data analysis found that GM canola could have a higher environmental impact than some other systems, besides triazine tolerant canola, these are not generally suitable for WA conditions.

“Due to weed burdens, most WA growers are unable to plant some types of canola including conventional systems,” Dr Fisher said.

He said by using less herbicide sprays on the GM canola about five to six per cent less fuel was used which resulted in a one to two per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions.

“In addition, the herbicides used with GM crops are more environmentally benign in the soil and have shorter half-lives than those they replace,” Dr Fisher said.

He also believes that GM canola could be compatible with WA farming practices.

“Grower surveys in New South Wales and Victoria have highlighted the suitability of GM canola with no-tillage techniques which are used widely in WA,” he said.

Dr Fisher warned that GM canola should not be released in WA with the expectation that it would be a silver bullet for local farmers.

“The technology must be used in a way that ensures that it will still be a viable tool 10 years from now, and that potential negative effects are minimised,” he said.

“Also, yield differences must be sufficient to offset trait fee (the charge for the GM seeds), especially in the low rainfall zone.”

The data analysis was completed independently, after being commissioned by Monsanto Australia Ltd.

The research compared the economic and environmental impact of Roundup Ready®, Clearfield®, imidazolinone tolerant canola and conventional systems by examining the results from farm trials in New South Wales and Victoria in 2008, and experiences in Canada.