Group of invited speakers from the Biosecurity in the new bioeconomy 2009 symposium standing under the Shine Dome, Canberra.

Twenty-three scientists were invited to give presentations at the Biosecurity in the new bioeconomy symposium.

Biosecurity in the new bioeconomy: threats and opportunities

From 18-21 November 2009 CSIRO Entomology held a frontier symposium in Canberra, Australia, to bring together the science behind new crop development and biosecurity research.

  • 1 March 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

About the symposium

The symposia, Biosecurity in the new bioeconomy: threats and opportunities, explored how research and policy can contribute to sustainable integrated pest management (IPM) of new crops and minimise the invasive threats they pose to the environment.

National and international scientists were invited to speak on a range of topics including:

  • the global bioeconomy
  • benefits, environmental risks and biosecurity issues of biofuel crops
  • research and development opportunities for bioindustries
  • national and international agricultural biosecurity policy.

Funding for the symposia was provided by:

  • CSIRO (Office of the Chief Executive) Cutting Edge Science Symposium
  • Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Cooperative Research Programme/Biological resource management for sustainable agricultural systems.

Researching biosecurity in the new bioeconomy

The global biofuel initiative is being driven by big government subsidies in the developed world, promises of buy back for energy and significant industrial investment in developing countries where farmers are being encouraged to plant energy crops over food crops.

Significant awareness emerged at the symposia about the uneconomic viability of first generation starch/sugar producing biofuel crops (beyond sugar cane and maize) despite millions of hectares being planted in developing countries around the world.

Many of the early companies pushing this have been bankrupted, pests are causing many crops to fail (despite assurances of being near pest free) and production systems have been poorly managed.

More research is needed on sustainable IPM of new crops and minimising the invasive threats they pose to the environment.

Threats to biodiversity and the likely impacts of these new crops on current pest communities is poorly understood, but we do know that key pests will be able to use these new crops as refuges for attacking food crops.

Despite this, plantings are proceeding bringing with them widespread environmental harm as well as increasing risks to human health from plant toxins contained in these new crops.

While there was no case for planting exotic first generation biofuel species in Australia, where the extensive agricultural systems could not hope to generate profitability from them, second generation ligno-cellulose producing biofuel crops/forestry may have a role here. They are currently the focus of many trial plantings in Europe and the Americas.

With few exceptions, these high biomass generating crops have all the characteristics of weeds. Therefore, two of the main messages from the symposia were the need to find native alternatives and the need to be cautious about the use of native species.

The symposia also discussed the need for research on better pest management systems and the need for policy at state and federal levels to adapt to manage increasing usage of all new species grown for non-food crop purposes.

A core message is that setting up these productions systems on marginal land will lead to poor capacity for management, marginal yield and little return.

Symposia presentations

Presentations from the symposia can be downloaded in seven parts:

Learn more about CSIRO research in The bioeconomy.