Gene Technology and Crops
Module: Feed Me
Primary producers who produce food off the land compete in the global marketplace for sales of their produce. Most consumers in that marketplace want products that use environmentally sustainable practices, are healthy and safe for consumption, and satisfy our desire for quality and novelty - but are not too expensive.
Off-farm, crop farmers face tough competition and regulation. On-farm, they have to deal with weeds, insects, diseases and varying weather and soil conditions.
Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and growth promoters are the main forms of crop protection currently in use in Australia. The cost of this crop protection went from $1,100 million to $1,600 million from 1996-99.
Grafting fruit or nut trees on to genetically modified rootstocks protects against bacterial infections, but does not produce a genetically modified plant.
How Might Gene Technology Reduce such Costs and Deliver what the Consumers Want?
Australian research is also focusing on finding genes that control flowering in crop plants. The aim is to allow growers to control the cycle of the plant's growth and harvest time to match the environment.
Gene technology can be used to improve crop and food quality by the use of DNA markers to speed up plant breeding and genomics.
Genetic modification of a crop plant involves introducing desirable traits to improve the yield or a desired quality. It can be done in three ways:
- Input traits: are commercially available, and can
- lower the cost of production
- improve crop yields
- reduce the level of chemicals used to control insects, diseases and weeds
- offer protection from environmental stresses such as heat, cold, drought and high levels of salt in the soil.
- Output traits: are aimed at helping consumers by improving the quality of food, fibre and other products.
- Anti-oxidants may be added to foods to deliver health benefits
- Tobacco may be nicotine-free
- Flowers will come in new colours
- Foods will have improved taste, better shelf-life and ripening characteristics.
- Value-added traits: plants may be used to produce
- textile fibres
- biodegradable plastics
- oils for use in paints, detergents and lubricants.
Researchers also anticipate gene technology will produce plants that can detect or dispose of environmental contaminants such as mercury, lead and petroleum products.
Not all of these products and crops are currently available. Researchers must fully test GM crops in the field before they can apply for a licence to grow them commercially. Click on the map to see where all GM crops that have been, or are currently being field tested in Australia.
Farmers and scientists have been working together to create new kinds of vegetables. These vegetables have exotic colours, fewer calories, and added health benefits. For example, the orange cauliflower has about 25 times more vitamin A than white cauliflower.