Health risk safeguards adequate, says Redman

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Claims that a GM wheat variety could cause liver failure in humans have not weakened the State Government's strong support of the crop.

WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman said there were adequate regulatory processes in place to ensure GM crops with human health risks would not be commercially released.

"This is a new variety that is being trialled and is not ready for commercial release," he said.

"No one will support its release on the commercial market if it is proven to cause liver damage.

"CSIRO has applied to do a feeding trial of this wheat. It may be that they get to the end of all their trials and say that it is not safe and it all goes away."

Mr Redman said New Zealand genetics researcher Jack Heinemann's claims that CSIRO's high amylose wheat could cause liver damage were "scurrilous".

"I can't see GM wheat getting approved for commercial release in the next term of government at least," he said.

Mr Redman said there was no application to trial this particular variety of wheat in WA but CSIRO had approval to trial some of its other lines of GM wheat and barley at the Department of Agriculture and Food's New Genes for New Environments facilities at Merredin.

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) has approved trials for CSIRO's high amylose wheat at its Ginninderra Experimental Station in Canberra (under OGTR DIRs 93 and 111). But the scientific agency said it did not have trials of the high amylose wheat planted this year.

WA Labor agriculture spokesman Paul Papalia used Professor Heinemann's report to call for a halt to all GM crop trials in WA.

He said the State Government should be held accountable for anything that went wrong with GM crops.

"I am calling for an immediate halt to all GM wheat trials in WA until such time as a very transparent analysis of the potential health risks associated with that crop is revealed to the public," he said.

"I would like the Minister to guarantee there is no health risk to the WA public.

"I won't allow any GM wheat to be grown here until the potential health risks have been eliminated."

A CSIRO spokeswoman said the organisation's high amylose GM wheat was engineered to increase levels of resistant starch, which could have positive benefits for bowel health and people with diabetes.

She said CSIRO would only go ahead with human and animal feeding trials of its GM wheat after relevant approvals.

"While approval-in-principle for animal and human GM trials exists, proceeding with such trials is contingent on (our research partner) Arista deciding to proceed and then obtaining approvals via CSIRO from the relevant animal and human ethics committees," she said.

The spokeswoman said the CSIRO would explore claims made by Dr Heinemann and other scientists, though she questioned the integrity of the research.

"There are media stories published claiming that CSIRO's GM wheat research has the potential to lead to adverse health issues," she said. "These claims have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"However, the claims will be considered by CSIRO and the regulatory bodies in the context of all other relevant research in this area."

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