42. The receiving environment includes: any relevant biotic/abiotic properties of the geographic regions where the field trial would occur; intended agricultural practices, including those that may be altered in relation to normal practices; other relevant GMOs already released; and any particularly vulnerable or susceptible entities that may be specifically affected by the proposed release (OGTR 2009).

43. The factors relevant to the growth, distribution and cultivation of commercial safflower in Australia can be found in Raising the Bar with Better Safflower Agronomy (GRDC 2010).

6.1 Relevant abiotic factors


44. The three proposed field trial sites are in the ACT, Narrabri Shire in NSW and Wagga Wagga in NSW. The climates of the ACT and Wagga Wagga are temperate with no dry season and the climate of Narrabri Shire is subtropical with a moderately dry winter (according to the modified Köppen classification system used by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology – see the BOM website).

45. The applicant proposes to locate field trials at least 50 m away from natural waterways.

6.2 Relevant agricultural practices


46. GM safflower seeds would be planted in trial sites in winter or early spring. The trial sites would include plots of GM safflower lines, non-GM parental safflower varieties, and non-GM commercial safflower varieties.

47. The proposed 10 m monitoring zone surrounding each trial site may be either kept as bare fallow or planted with vegetation maintained at a height of less than 10 cm such as grass species, and would be kept free of weeds.

48. The applicant proposes to harvest all GM safflower at maturity. The applicant may harvest the safflower by hand, or may use a single row harvester or a small plot harvester. The GMOs would be harvested separately from other crops. Any equipment used for harvesting or other operations would be cleaned on-site prior to removal or use for any other purpose.

49. Fallen seed and non-propagative plant material remaining at the field locations after harvest would be ploughed into the ground. The sites would be watered post-harvest to encourage seed germination and monitored for volunteers. Volunteers would be removed by hand or killed by herbicide application.

6.3 Presence of related plants in the receiving environment


50. Safflower is grown as a minor commercial crop in Australia. The proposed trial sites in Narrabri Shire and Wagga Wagga are within current safflower growing areas and it is possible that non-GM safflower crops will be grown nearby. The proposed trial site in the ACT is not in an area where safflower is known to be grown.

51. Naturalised populations of wild safflower have been reported at low levels in all states and territories of Australia except the ACT (Atlas of Living Australia). Wild safflower is considered a minor weed that primarily establishes on disturbed ground (Groves et al. 2003).

52. The related species Carthamus dentatus, C. leucocaulos (sometimes known as C. glaucus) and C. lanatus have also naturalised in Australia (Atlas of Living Australia). Both C. lanatus and C. leucocaulos have been declared noxious weeds in some states or territories (Weeds Australia). Although C. lanatus and C. leucocaulos can hybridise with safflower under controlled conditions, there are cytogenetic barriers due to variation in chromosome numbers, and the crosses result in sterile offspring (Mayerhofer et al. 2011). Similarly, formation of viable hybrids between C. dentatus and safflower is unlikely due to different chromosome numbers (Mcpherson et al. 2004).

6.4 Presence of similar genes and encoded proteins in the environment


53. The three gene fragments included in the silencing constructs are from endogenous safflower genes that are naturally present in all safflower plants. The hph antibiotic resistance gene is from E. coli, which is widespread and prevalent in the environment, including in the human and animal digestive systems.

54. Regulatory sequences are derived from common plants or from plant bacteria or viruses that are widespread in the environment. Although some of the regulatory sequences are derived from plant pathogens, they comprise only small parts of the total genomes and cannot of themselves cause disease.