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Better ryegrass can be easily achieved without GE

3 March 2005

Better ryegrass can be easily achieved without GE

The Government should be funding Wrightson to speed up its selective breeding of ryegrass, rather than supporting attempts to achieve the same thing through genetic engineering, says Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons.

Associate Minister of Industry and Regional Development Pete Hodgson announced today that the Australia-New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund is to grant $3 million over three years to Wrightson for the development and commercialisation of GE ryegrass. The program will only use the existing genes of the plant and take place in Australia.

"Some years ago Wrightson developed naturally bred ryegrass that had improved digestibility and more easily converted to meat, and therefore produced less methane, so it isn't necessary to use GE to achieve what they're now trying to do," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Genetic Engineering Spokesperson.

"If the company needs to further improve ryegrass they can speed up their selective breeding programme by using their genetic research in the lab to inform and hasten their testing of each offspring for positive traits. This is a much safer, reliable and more market-acceptable path to be taking than genetically modifying the plant.

"It makes little sense to choose a course of action that will greatly restrict the market for your product when a perfectly acceptable alternative to the same outcome is available. Many European countries will not take meat from animals fed with GE grass and no organic meat farmer anywhere will use GE grass because they would loose their certification.

"GE ryegrass also risks contaminating the produce of conventional farmers who want to be GE-Free. More than any other plant, grasses spread pollen and seed far and wide, so it would be impossible to contain even a field trial. Furthermore ryegrass 'outcrosses', so it can pollinate other breeds of grass," said Ms Fitzsimons.


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