Prof Pratley response to critique and Stapper reply

The letter-to-the-editor “Research doubts” by Maarten Stapper in The Land of 6 December and The Weekly Times of 12 December (see media ‘CSU GM canola’) provoked a response from Professor Pratley.

Published in The Land (13 Dec.) and The Weekly Times (2 Jan.), it is condescending, a personal attack questioning Maarten’s ability to raise research  issues as being a “former practising scientist”.   

Below is the reply from Maarten, “GM critique misrepresented”,  which was sent to The Land and The Weekly Times asking for a right of reply. As shown below, these were published in The Land of 10 January and The Weekly Times of 23 January. The last one so much reduced in length that it lost its meaning. Compare and judge for yourself. 

First read Prof Jim Pratley’s letter in The Land of 13 December  “Research misunderstood” at the bottom of this page.

GM critique misrepresented

SIR: Interesting to read Professor Jim Pratley’s lecture ‘Research misunderstood’ (The Land, December 13, p20) where he sternly questions my questioning of his reported GM canola research without giving real answers, nothing about segregation, real costs in GM gross margins or multi-generational safety.

He states I may have another agenda. However, my agenda is obtaining the truth on all aspects of GM, good and bad, short-term and long-term. Professor Pratley may himself have another agenda (R&D money) in labeling his single season, single paddock evaluation of GM as evidence to repeal the moratorium.

Using this limited study to claim success of GM canola is taking the results out of context, something he accuses this “former practicing scientist” of doing with my critique.

However, I merely questioned aspects of the project reported in the 13 November press release (why now for a project that finished in 2003?) and in The Land by Alan Dick on November 15, “CSU research supports GM canola”.

In these reports and his GM Review Panel submission, Professor Pratley states that he undertook “the only long term crop system research undertaken to evaluate GM herbicide tolerant canola under field experimentation in Australia”. When I questioned this not being systems research, however, he claims he “used the word ‘system’ simply to describe different weed management regimes”.

In the recent publicity of his research it was not stated that the gross margins didn’t include the GM technology fee. He now states that he “deliberately did not use a fee because no fee has been determined in Australia.” Why not simply use the $15 a hectare fee with reference to Canada and ABARE? Plus extra seed costs?

That would have changed the best and second best GM returns to losses of $8 and $74 per hectare compared with TT canola. With TT having the known genetic yield disadvantage!

Professor Pratley explains not spraying out cape weed and Paterson’s curse in the conventional crop because of the $20/ha herbicide cost and probable damage to some varieties. However, the yield penalty of these broadleaves could have paid for this.

By raising trivial points Professor Pratley dug a hole for himself. He falls in that hole with his final answer as to why it was unfair that I “scolded” him about not doing repeated trials across paddocks and years. He now admits this “would have been nice” but blames the OGTR and the moratorium for preventing this to happen.

However, the report doesn’t mention such required research. This with the project commencing in 1999 and the moratorium starting in 2003!

 Maarten Stapper, Belconnen ACT 2617

The Land Dearth 10Jan08

WeeklyTimes Plenty 23Jan08

The Land, 13 December 2007

Research misunderstood

SIR:  As a former practicing scientist, Dr Maarten Stapper (“Research doubts”, The Land, December 6, p25) would know that taking components of a research project and giving them a different context is not accepted in scientific circles.

In response to his criticism of our research, we can only conclude he has not read our document fully or has another agenda.

He claims the research is not “systems research”, yet we used the word “systems” simply to describe different weed management regimes of the canola varieties as clearly defined in the document.

He criticises us for not using a genetically modified (GM) technology fee in our gross margin analysis, but we clearly pointed out we deliberately did not use a fee because no fee has been determined in Australia.

He complains the site seemed to be mainly ryegrass. What a surprise!

The project was to evaluate how these “systems” coped with challenge from annual ryegrass and the site was deliberately sown with annual ryegrass for that purpose.

Does he understand that annual ryegrass is our most problematic weed in winter crops?

Dr Stapper criticises us also for not spraying out cape weed and Paterson’s curse in the conventional variety.

Clopyralid is the only registered broadleaf post-emergent herbicide for canola in NSW and may cause damage to some varieties.

If we’d used it, we’d have added more than $20 a hectare to the conventional canola variety cost, further improving the relative economic performance of Roundup Ready.

He questions the risk of herbicide resistance, but would have noticed upon reading the paper that the knockdown chemical regime was changed in years two and three to successfully minimise that risk.

He queries control of GM volunteers but we explicitly reported volunteers were not an issue, and in years four and five when glyphosate was again used as the knockdown, there were no surviving volunteers of canola.

Finally, Dr Stapper scolds us for not doing repeated trials in time and space, which would have been nice but the experiment was under the tight regulations of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The GM canola moratorium then prevented anybody from doing further field experiments.

We welcome informed, relevant, constructive comment and are very happy to provide the document on this project to any readers.

Jim Pratley and Rex Stanton
EH Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga

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