Australian researchers probe environmental impact of GMOs

by Emily Wilson
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The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) recently launched a A$3-million, three-year project to examine the effects of genetically modified plants, animals and other organisms on the environment on a large scale.

Paul Wellings, CSIRO deputy chief executive of environment and natural resources, said the project is designed to improve Australian scientists' understanding of the wider ecological impacts of GMOs to allow more informed and factual national debate on their use.

"Gene technology can expand our options to improve our health, create a safer, more secure food supply, generate prosperity and attain a more sustainable agriculture," Dr. Wellings said. "A lot of work has already been done to assess the impacts of GMOs at the field trial scale. However, the application of GMOs has reached the point where larger scale, longer term environmental assessments are necessary. We ought to look as carefully at risks as we do at benefits from our research, and to share what we find with the Australian community."

CSIRO will run trials of genetically modified canola, cotton and clover that will help determine what impact these might have on the natural environment, said Mark Lonsdale, project leader. "Understanding the impacts of GMOs on agricultural sustainability is a major focus for this research," Dr. Lonsdale said. "The Australian community demands that environmental impacts be based on impartial and scientific information, and that is exactly what we are aiming to contribute."

The project will look at developing new tools for assessing the risks of GMOs; study the ecological impacts of existing GM crops; and assess the potential risks and ecological impacts of GMOs that may be developed in future.

"This is a fresh field of research worldwide," Dr. Lonsdale said. "It is one in which many nations, governments, environmentalists and farming communities are taking a keen interest. Ultimately; the insights from this project can be applied in many countries that are seeking to assess the relative benefits and risks of GMOs."

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