AusAg & Foodtech - Fast Facts

Agriculture & Food Biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology and food technology represents a spectrum of the biotechnology’s contribution to the food development process in Australia, from the farm to the plate. Applications of biotechnology are used to improve seeds and crops, and in food science to enhance our diets and provide functional foods for preventative health.

Modern agricultural biotechnology is providing benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers. Important improvements include helping farmers protect their crops from pests and diseases and reducing pesticide use. Increased yields of genetically modified (GM) crops also help to ensure a lower-cost supply of food for consumers and preserves natural forests, as well as providing a source of alternative fuels (bio-fuels).

Now, more than ever, we need tools such as agricultural biotechnology to produce more food fibre for a rapidly growing global population using less natural resources. To meet the growing needs of the world’s population, farmers need to produce more food in the next 50 years than they have in the past 100 years combined.

Food science plays a role in community health by providing modified foods and beverages (fortified, enriched or enhanced), medical foods and foods for special diets. The regulator for functional foods, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) describes these foods as “...similar in appearance to conventional foods and intended to be consumed as part of a normal diet, but modified to serve physiological roles beyond the provision of simple nutrient requirements.”

Functional foods are a growing field in food science due to advances in technology, health-conscious consumers interested in the relationship between diet and health, and the move towards preventative health and wellness in an ageing population.

Australia’s food industry has a strong reputation and the capability to supply quality foods and ingredients. Collaboration between government, industry, universities and health institutions are helping Australia’s food science sector prosper by encouraging innovation that delivers secure, safe and high-quality food and beverages.

 Agricultural biotechnology
 Food technology

Industry Facts and Figures

Plant science

The plant science industry provides products to protect crops against pests, weeds and diseases, as well as developing crop biotechnologies that are key to the nation’s agricultural productivity, sustainability and food security. The plant science industry is worth more than $17.6 billion a year to the Australian economy and directly employs thousands of people across the country.
(CropLife Australia submission to the White Paper Agricultural Competitiveness, 17 April 2014)

Biotech crops are delivering significant economic and productivity gains, as well as substantial environmental benefits. Without biotechnology, 2011 productivity levels would have required additional plantings equivalent to 33 per cent of the arable land in Australia. That’s over 15 million hectares of forest and natural habitat saved by the use of crop biotechnology.
(CropLife Australia)

Agricultural biotechnologies, such as genetically modified crops, have the potential to transform agricultural productivity by delivering increased yields and lowering input costs. They can also improve environmental outcomes by reducing the need for inputs such as herbicides and water. Looking to the future, GM crops could better equip cropping systems to withstand drought, frost and other climate challenges. Biotechnology may also enable agricultural systems to be adapted to produce pharmaceuticals and products with industrial applications, potentially expanding the markets in which farmers can operate.
(Agricultural Competitiveness Issues Paper, Commonwealth of Australian 2014, page 31)

The worldwide adoption of GM crops has rapidly increased every year since their introduction in 1995, including in Australia. GM crops approved for commercial release in Australia by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator are cotton and canola. The GM cotton varieties have been modified to be resistant to certain pests and/or herbicides and the GM canola varieties are herbicide resistant. ABARES estimates that, Australia wide, 175 000 hectares of GM canola were planted in 2012-13 (8.2 per cent of total canola plantings), up from 164 000 hectares (9.5 per cent) in 2011–12. GM cotton has been grown in Australia since 1996 and now makes up around 95 per cent of Australia’s cotton crop.
(Australian Government Department of Agriculture – Biotechnology)

Biotechnology for animal health

Biotechnology is making an increasing contribution to the Global Animal Health (AH) field in the areas of vaccine development, diagnostics and biopharmaceuticals. The Global AH market was worth $23 billion in 2013 and includes products for both livestock and companion animals with relative sales being split 60/40 between these species. The market is also split between pharmaceuticals (62%), biologicals (26%) and medicinal feed additives (12%).
(Animal Pharm, May 2014)

While traditional vaccines are still produced by culture of the pathogen followed by inactivation of the agent, an increasing number of vaccines use recombinant antigens, molecularly attenuated live viruses or deletion mutants. With the need to sometimes be able to differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals, marker genes are also now being inserted into viral vaccines to allow for this discrimination.

In the area of diagnostics, recombinant proteins provides a reliable sources of antigens for diagnostic assays and polymerase chain reactions( PCR) based assays are now used routinely due to their exquisite sensitivity and improved specificity. This is particularly important to Australian Agriculture due to our freedom from many of the worst diseases of livestock, such as foot and mouth disease.

Biopharmaceutical are becoming increasingly important for AH to improve the productivity and welfare of animals. While recombinant proteins have been used for many years we are now seeing peptide based products and monoclonal antibody technology becoming available for treatment in multiple species. The ability to rapidly speciate monoclonal antibodies and improvements in mammalian production systems, means that these types of therapeutics that are routinely used in humans can be made available for use in multiple veterinary species.