AUSTRALIA – The Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has received a license application from The University of Adelaide for a field trial involving genetically modified (GM) wheat and barley with a focus on yield enhancement.

The proposed trial, set to take place between May 2024 and January 2029, aims to harness genetic modifications for abiotic stress tolerance and increased crop productivity.

The field trial is slated to occur on a single site in the Light Regional Council in South Australia, covering a maximum area of 2 hectares per year.

The OGTR outlines stringent control measures to prevent the spread and persistence of GM plants and their genetic material, emphasizing that the modified wheat and barley will not be utilized for human food or animal feed.

The OGTR is actively preparing a comprehensive Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) for the proposed trial, with plans to release a consultation version for public comment and expert feedback in January 2024.

The regulatory body will invite comments for a minimum of 30 days, welcoming insights from experts, agencies, and authorities.

The proposed controls for the trial include measures to restrict access to the trial site, prevent outcrossing to non-GM plants through buffer zones, and ensure the containment of GM seeds and plant material during transport and storage.

Regular inspections of the trial site will be conducted, with any GM plants found before flowering promptly destroyed.

This application follows a precedent set in 2017 when the OGTR granted a license to the University of Adelaide for the limited and controlled release of GM wheat and barley geared towards abiotic stress tolerance and yield enhancement.

 In 2021, a RARMP was prepared, inviting written submissions to address concerns related to human health, safety, and environmental protection.

Global Biotech Developments in Wheat

The global context of biotech crops includes historical instances such as the development of Clearfield wheat by BASF in 2007 and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready wheat, showcasing the industry’s ongoing efforts to enhance crop traits.

Bioceres, through a joint venture with Florimond Desprez, a global leader in wheat genetics,  has also developed a drought-tolerant wheat variety known as HB4 Wheat.

Bioceres scored a major victory in May 2022 when Food Standards Australia New Zealand approved the company’s drought tolerant strain HB4 for use in food.

However, a different governing body — the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator — must provide approval for the planting of HB4.

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