7. BSES Limited (BSES) proposes to release up to 500 sugarcane lines7 from each of 25 categories8 of gene constructs (ie a total of up to 12,500 lines) which have been genetically modified (GM) to alter plant growth, enhance drought tolerance, enhance nitrogen use efficiency, alter sucrose accumulation and to improve cellulosic ethanol production from sugarcane biomass, into the environment under limited and controlled conditions.

8. The dealings involved in the proposed intentional release would include:

  • conducting experiments with the GMOs
  • breeding the GMOs
  • propagating, growing, raising or culturing the GMOs
  • transporting the GMOs
  • disposing of the GMOs.
The dealings would also include the possession, supply or use of the GMOs for the purposes of, or in the course of, a dealing mentioned in any of the dealings mentioned above. Those dealings are detailed further throughout the remainder of the current Chapter.

9. Some details of the application concerning the identification of several of the genes and regulatory sequences have been declared Confidential Commercial Information (CCI) under section 185 of the Act. This information was considered during the preparation of the RARMP and was made available to the prescribed expert groups and authorities that were consulted on this application.

3.1 The proposed activities

10. The applicant has stated that the objective of the proposed trial is to evaluate the GM sugarcane plants under field conditions for key changes to agronomic characteristics such as sugar and cane yield and the use of resources such as water and fertiliser. To carry out this objective several rounds of plant production, selection and crossing would be done. The GM sugarcane or products made from it would not be used for human food or animal feed.

11. The GM sugarcane lines proposed for release would be produced in facilities at BSES Indooroopilly (Brisbane) and CSIRO Plant Industry, St Lucia (Brisbane) before being transported to trial sites for planting in the field. In the field, GM sugarcane lines would be assessed for their agronomic potential. Assessment would be carried out in three successive trials (see Figure 2):

  • progeny assessment: individual plantlets of all GM lines would be grown in the field and assessed for stalk weight, commercial cane sugar (CCS) yield and other traits at the first harvest. The following ratoon crop would be harvested for planting material for the estimated 10% of lines selected for the next stage of assessment.
  • clonal assessment: lines would be planted in long single rows to resemble a commercial planting, and measurements would be taken of crop weight, CCS and other traits (including drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency) in two successive harvests. It is estimated that the best 1% of lines would be selected for the next stage of assessment.
  • final assessment: lines would be planted in four-row plots and assessed over three harvests for plot weight and CCS. The most promising lines would undergo separate disease screening tests. It is estimated that the best 0.1% of lines would then be maintained in holding plots.
12. Promising GM lines from some of the categories (refer to Table 4 for details) would be selected at the clonal and final assessment stages for crossing, and the resulting progeny would then enter a new round of assessment trials. Crossing would take place over several years, giving rise to several rounds of GM sugarcane undergoing the progression of three assessment trials in later years.

13. All of the work would be undertaken at current or proposed BSES stations (Table 1, Figure 3). Field planting would be done at BSES Burdekin, Central and Southern stations, allowing evaluation of GM plants under a range of different growing environments. BSES also proposes to carry out field plantings at a planned research station (referred to in their application as the proposed GM farm) which would be located in the same geographical region as BSES Burdekin, Central or Southern. At each of these BSES stations the GM sugarcane would be planted in up to ten fields at any one time, and in one seed-raising area. Field planting for the purpose of disease testing would be done at BSES Woodford, where the GMOs would be planted in up to three fields at any one time, and in one
seed-raising area.

Figure 2. Proposed stages and timing of assessment of GM sugarcane lines
Solid arrows indicate transfer of vegetative material for planting
Dashed arrow indicates transfer of seedlings for commencement of new assessment trials
* the second ratoon of final assessment trials may be harvested for planting material, but yield would not be assessed

Table 1. Proposed localities for release of GM sugarcane
BSES Sugar Experiment StationMaximum total area (ha)Maximum number of release sites per season1Local Government AreaLocality
Meringa0.021CairnsMeringa, Qld
Burdekin411BurdekinAyr, Qld
Central411MackayTe Kowai, Qld
Southern412BundabergBundaberg, Qld
Woodford44Moreton BayWoodford, Qld
Planned station2411Burdekin, Mackay OR Bundaberg
1 The different proposed release sites include: at five BSES stations, one nursery area in which GM sugarcane is proposed to be grown in pots; at two BSES stations, one crossing facility site made up of a glasshouse, photoperiod facility and some other areas; and at five BSES stations, up to 10 release sites at which GM sugarcane is proposed to be planted into the field.

2 The planned station is a facility BSES plans to established in the Burdekin, Mackay or Bundaberg local government area. All other proposed sites are within established BSES Sugar Experiment Stations.

Figure 3. Sugarcane growing areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales. Locations at which the applicant proposes to release GM sugarcane are BSES stations at Woodford (north of Brisbane), Bundaberg (BSES Southern), Mackay (BSES Central), Burdekin (near Ayr), and Meringa (south of Cairns). Map adapted from DIR 095 application.

The facility at BSES Meringa would be used for flower production, crossing, and seed collection and storage. Crossing experiments may also be undertaken at BSES Southern.

3.2 The proposed limits of the dealings (size, locations and duration)

14. The release is proposed to take place at six BSES stations located in the local government areas (LGAs) of Bundaberg Regional Council, Mackay Regional Council, Burdekin Shire Council, Moreton Bay Regional Council and Cairns Regional Council in Queensland on a maximum area of 21 ha over fifteen years from August 2009 to August 2024. Within most of the BSES stations proposed to be used, the release would occur in multiple areas (Table 1). Within the four BSES stations at which general field plantings are proposed (BSES Southern, Central, Burdekin and the planned station), the GM sugarcane lines would be planted in up to 10 field locations at any one time, and also maintained in pots in a nursery area. At BSES Woodford, a nursery area and up to three field planting areas are proposed. At BSES Meringa and BSES Central, an area composed of a glasshouse, a photoperiod facility and some other areas would make up a crossing facility at which the release is proposed to occur.

3.3 The proposed controls to restrict the dissemination and persistence of the GMOs and their genetic material in the environment

15. The applicant has proposed a number of controls to restrict the dissemination and persistence of the GM sugarcane lines and the introduced genetic material in the environment including:

  • surrounding the field trial sites by one guard row of non-GM sugarcane and a further isolation zone of at least 6 m
  • separating GM sugarcane material from non-GM material when propagating seedlings or setts on seedling benches, and clearly identifying GM material
  • monitoring GM sugarcane in photoperiod facilities for spikelet opening and enclosing inflorescences in pollen lanterns prior to spikelet opening
  • locating the field trial sites at least 50 m away from natural waterways
  • harvesting and processing GM sugarcane from the trial separately from any other sugarcane
  • analysing plant materials at the BSES stations or in PC2 laboratories
  • destroying all plant materials not required for experimentation or propagation
  • after cleaning the sites, monitoring for and destroying any GM sugarcane that may grow for at least 12 months, and until the site is free of volunteers for a continuous 6 month period
  • transporting GM plant materials between BSES stations in accordance with the Regulator’s transportation guidelines
  • not allowing the GM plant material or products to be used for human food or animal feed.

16. These controls, and the limits outlined in Chapter 1, Section 3.2, have been taken into account in establishing the risk assessment context (this chapter), and their suitability for containing the proposed release is evaluated in Chapter 3, Section 4.2.1.

7The term ‘line’ is used to denote plants derived from a single plant containing a specific genetic modification made by one transformation event.

8The applicant originally specified 24 categories of GM sugarcane, with the 25th category being added during the assessment process.