When Columbus first reached the Americas, he never foresaw the revolutionary impact his discovery would have upon the world's kitchen tables.
Over the centuries which followed, meats, fruits, vegetables and new farming methods spread across the globe with breathtaking results.
Peruvian potatoes lifted living standards in Ireland, Caribbean cassava transformed diets in Africa and livestock, horses and grain crops revolutionised farming and mobility in the Americas. Put simply, this global transference transformed the world so fundamentally that it would never be the same again. To most historians, this period is commonly referred to as the Columbian Exchange.
In regard to Australia's experience, the results were also significant. By the time our part of the world was discovered, much of the biological transference had already occurred. As a result, Australia's European settlers were in a prime position to use this reality to build one of the world's wealthiest agricultural trading nations.
Sadly, as one of the greatest beneficiaries of the original Columbian Exchange, Australia remains one of its poorest students. Despite the Columbian Exchange being the foundation upon which modern Australian prosperity is built, most Australians remain apprehensive about its modern day equivalent.
In today's world, a second Columbian Exchange is presently underway in which new agricultural products are available for transference much like they were 500 years ago. However, unlike those commodities being discovered in one hemisphere and transferred to another, today's commodities are being discovered in laboratories. They are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
GMOs are organisms such as food crops which have had their genes altered or enlarged so that they possess new characteristics. Some valued changes include resistance to pests and diseases, different ripening speeds, production of larger fruits and seeds, greater absorption of light, nutrients and water, better resilience for transportation and stronger tolerance for climates previously deemed too dry, high, wet, cold, frost effected, saline or nutrient deficient.
Such changes result in higher living standards, stronger productivity, better yields, increased farm incomes, lower input costs and improved environmental outcomes. In many ways, this process is a continuation of the selective breeding programmes commenced in the Neolithic revolution 10,000 years ago. But whereas in the past it would take a multi-generation "hit and miss" approach, in today's laboratories, the process can take only a few years.
While it is hard to imagine, genetically modified plants and animals are best conceptualised as new commodities being discovered on the mythical continent of Labratoria. Whereas 500 years ago the transference of biological products from one hemisphere to another revolutionised the farming methods of the time, in our era, the transference of genetically modified products from the laboratory to farmland is accomplishing the very same thing.
How Australia is missing out
Australia is not embracing this agricultural revolution as enthusiastically as it should be.
In total, only 0.7mha of Australian farm land hosts GM crops. This represents 0.0041 per cent of the total amount of land used for GM crops worldwide.
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