GM wheat firm going belly-up - "State won't help us" (19/3/2007)

GM WATCH comment: Grain Biotech Australia can whinge all they like but it would have been madness to put public money into GM wheat when not only is there no market for it but any contamination caused by trials could decimate Australia's existing wheat market, as happened with GM rice trials in the US.


State won't help us, says GM wheat firm
Torrance Mendez
West Australian (Perth), March 16 2007

A Perth biotechnology firm says it faces closure after failing to secure State Government funds to finish developing a genetically modified salt-tolerant variety of wheat.

Grain Biotech Australia approached Alan Carpenter last April after it completed a field trial in Corrigin, funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Business development manager Alan Tough said GBA was encouraged when the Premier touted the resource prospects of biotechnology. Mr Tough sought State Government approval to boost GBA's credibility and fundraising.

The Premier redirected GBA to Agriculture Minister Kim Chance who, despite positive talks, redirected GBA to then science minister Fran Logan who rescheduled a February meeting to March 26, by which time the Premier had assumed the science portfolio from Mr Logan.

Shareholders and others had sunk $5 million into GBA since 2001 to develop GM wheat varieties of which $1.6 million was ploughed into the salt-tolerant wheat project. GBA needed $2 million a year to finish the program by 2010.

"We're winding up the company," Mr Tough said. GBA's work in the State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University was patented. Its dream of starting a national centre in WA to design and build new grain varieties lay in tatters.

Promises of financial help had collapsed because of GBA's protracted dealings with the State Government, Mr Tough said. He saw little point in meeting Mr Logan if he was no longer the relevant minister. "I take the Premier's desire to be in the biotechnology industry at face value," Mr Tough said. "But you've got to understand there's no short-term, cheap, simple way into this."

GBA claimed its work was unique in Australia and could add $23 a tonne to WA grain prices.

Mr Tough said the benefits could see WA's moratorium on GM crops overturned in three to four years.

A spokesman for Mr Logan said he was driving the Beyond the Boom strategy as Minister for Industry and Enterprise, which included biotechnology. Mr Logan was the appropriate person for GBA to meet.

Opposition biotechnology spokesman Barry House accused the Government of paying lip service to science. "This is a missed opportunity for not only GBA but WA's wheat industry," he said. "The State Government has played a huge part in its failure."

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