Australian researchers to probe environmental impact of GMOs

Scientists have announced a new AU$3 million (US$ 1.72 million) three year project to examine the effects of genetically modified plants, animals and other organisms on the environment on a large scale.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) project will develop 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 various kinds of GMOs that may be developed in future.

“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,” the Deputy Chief Executive for the Environment and Natural Resources at CSIRO, Dr Paul Wellings said in a statement on 28 August.

CSIRO announced that the project would take the form of trials of genetically modified cotton, clover and canola to help determine their environmental impact. A study will also consider possible ecological impacts of GMOs that are still only at the research stage and haven’t been released, such as insect resistant eucalypts, livestock gut micro-organisms, oysters and a virus that induces mouse sterility.

To allay public fears, Dr Mark Lonsdale, leader of the project, has stressed that the project aims to contribute “impartial and scientific information”, based on consultation with government regulators and the wider community. “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,” Wellings added. “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”.

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