Trials sought for GM grasses claimed to cut emissions

AgResearch will soon seek regulatory approval for field trials of new transgenic grasses it claims could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An application is expected to be lodged with the Environmental Risk Management Authority for the trials.

The locations and trial plot sizes are still to be determined, but several venues have been proposed.

AgResearch's applied biotechnologies manager, Jimmy Suttie, said the transgenic grasses had both environmental and productivity advantages.

The grasses were high in energy, which meant fewer animals were needed to get the same production, reducing the amount of methane released.

The science behind the forage meant digestion of the plant was more efficient, cutting the amount of methane produced by animals and increasing energy that went into tissue and productivity.

But Dr Suttie said the technology also had implications for further research to cut methane emissions and reduce the volume of water required by the plants.

The greenhouse gas methane was New Zealand's greatest contributor to climate change, but farmers and the primary sector have said they had few options to reduce its production, other than reducing the number of animals on farms.

AgResearch was working with the authority to determine what approval it needed, after which it would make a detailed and specific application for field trials at several venues around the country.

Dr Suttie said the research had the backing of Dairy New Zealand, Meat and Wool New Zealand and Deer Industry New Zealand.

"All the major producer bodies and major companies involved in New Zealand agriculture are all investing in plant biotechnology at the moment."

This showed industry was supportive of the technology, unlike its transgenic animal research, which Dr Suttie said AgResearch carried out on its own.

He said the science company would not do that again.

"AgResearch won't go it alone. If industry is not supportive of us, we won't do it ourselves."

While some people were opposed the technology and always would be, Dr Suttie said industry support was important for the application to the environmental authority.

If the application process went to plan, Dr Suttie said the first transgenic forages could be ready for sowing in field trials by 2017.


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