03 May, 2009

Clean Cows (Clean Coal, Clean Cars) & other fairy tales

Dear Minister Mulherin,

I read with interest the results of research into genetic manipulation of beef cattle. Based on Hansard, this technology may have some useful applications for Members of Parliament.

Why is the Queensland State Government (and the oppostion for that matter) so intent on sustaining the Beef industry when clearly Beef is not ecologically sustainable? The CSIRO (Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 2003) reports that beef generates over 50 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per kilogram of Beef meat from paddock to plate. A disproportionate amount of water is used in raising cattle. 20 000 liters of water is used to produce a kilogram of steak. 40 000 litres for grain fed Beef.

Why aren't we supporting our Beef producers to transition to alternative forms of protein?

Hard hooved, water and carbon intensive beasts have no place in a Queensland landscape. Apart from coal mining, nothing contributes more to land degradation and loss of native habitat and species, than cattle grazing.

When will the Smart State make the leap of logic and move Agriculture away from intensive, hydrocarbon dependent practices?

The Queensland State Government appears to pay lip service to "Ecological Sustainable Development" without any reference to Ecology.


Rowan Barber


Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland
The Honourable Tim Mulherin

"Temperamental" humans and cows may share same genes

Some of the genes thought to cause behavioural problems in humans may also cause temperamental behaviour in cattle.

A new $1.35M Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries research project will look at how to switch that gene off in a bid to boost the beef industry.

Minister for Primary Industries, Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin announced the project ahead of attending the Beef Australia 2009 Expo in Rockhampton.

Mr Mulherin said: "This is exciting, ground-breaking research by our scientists which could literally change the character and quality of our beef herd.

"It would provide a huge boost to Queensland's beef industry which is worth $3.7 billion a year.

"Even though cattle and humans are separated by 60 million years of evolution we share many of the same genes.

"The genes thought to cause behavioural problems in humans are also found in cattle.

"We already know there is an association between the temperament of cattle and the tenderness of the meat - the more temperamental, the less tender.

"So if our scientists can learn how to switch off the gene that causes irritability in cattle then we can produce more tender meat which has a higher value to industry.

"We're not just looking at tenderness. We're also investigating a whole range of other factors that could boost profitability.

"For instance we may be able to influence cattle to have calves earlier in the season.

"Calves born earlier are typically heavier than calves born later in the season and because the cows have calved earlier they can produce a calf once a year (instead of skipping a year) and without increasing cow mortalities.

"This is one of the most significant aspects of this research as reproduction rate is the number one driver of profitability in Northern Australian beef enterprises," Mr Mulherin said.

Leading this five-year investment in cutting edge research is Dr Brian Burns, a Rockhampton-based QPIF principal research scientist specialising in genetics and animal breeding.

Dr Burns said his research project centres around the new field of 'epigenetics' - the study of modifications to genes other than changes in the DNA sequence itself.

Dr Burns said: "We're working closely with national and international partners on expanding our knowledge of 'epigenetics'.

"Our aim is to breed cattle with the most desirable genetic characteristics for domestic and international markets.

"That will mean cattle with improved reproduction, growth, carcase, adaptation and behavioural traits and better end-product quality.

"This is new territory we are entering and we still don't fully understand the various epigenetic interactions influencing some genes that can turn these genes on or off and cause deviations from traditional inheritance patterns in cattle," he said.

"What we do know is that this project will greatly improve our knowledge of epigenetics and help achieve more consistent production traits and better end product beef quality."

The beef epigenetics project is focusing on four main outcomes for Brahman x British crossbred and tropical composite breed cattle in Queensland:

·greater reproductive efficiency

·more consistent growth

·better carcase traits

·improved temperament

·better environmental adaptation.

Dr Burns said what made this research even more important to the Queensland agricultural economy was that tropically adapted Bos indicus beef cattle breeds (which include Brahman) and their crosses with non-tropically adapted British and large European breeds, and tropically adapted Bos taurus breeds and crosses were critical for survival and production in Queensland's harsh tropical production systems.

"Brahmans and their crosses are predominant in Queensland and northern Australia," he said.

"The Bos indicus content of northern Australian beef herds rose from 5% in 1970 to approximately 85% during the 1990s.

"Therefore, the Brahman and their crosses are central to the future development and productivity of the Queensland beef cattle herd."

Dr Burns said by identifying epigenetic influences that affect reproduction, growth, carcase, environmental adaptation and behavioural traits, breeders could expect increased efficiency and profitability in their operations.

"We believe we can also ensure that Brahman crossbred heifers and cows will be more fertile throughout their production lives, with improved maternal ability and temperament, and produce beef that is even more tender," he said.

"More consistent growth would mean better and more predictable final target market liveweights and slaughter weights, which could be tailored for specific markets.

"With a better understanding of the genetic potential of individual cattle, we will be able to develop strategies for producers to harness epigenetic influences within their own cattle breeding programs."

Dr Burns said the QPIF research team would be working closely with Professor Stefan Hiendleder, Head of the University of Adelaide/Roseworthy Campus-based JS Davies Epigenetics and Genetics Group.

The research group has the molecular genetics specialists to evaluate novel aspects of growth. This JS Davies group also has a collection of embryos and foetuses that are either purebred Bos indicus or Bos taurus or their reciprocal crosses which they will use to identify imprinted genes for a broad trait spectrum in beef cattle.

Another component of the project will be led by Associate Professor Andy Herring, Texas A&M University (TAMU), who will be supporting the project using almost 50 years of post-natal growth and development, reproduction and carcass data in addition to 20 years of DNA information collected from the TAMU McGregor Genomics Project resource herds.

The epigentics data extracted from these reciprocal cross herds in Texas will help validate parent of origin effects on foetal growth, calf birth weight and life time performance in both QPI&F owned Brahman and collaborating Droughtmaster producer herds throughout Queensland.

This project will be profiled at the Beef Australia 2009 expo in Rockhampton, as part of the 5 May "FutureBeef: Smart Science, New Technologies, Profitable Beef Businesses" Seminar. The seminar will showcase the innovative work of scientists and extension officers in the field of molecular and genetic technologies and beef business management, and how this can boost the beef industry.

What: "Smart science, New technologies, Profitable beef businesses" Seminar

When: 10.30am-1pm. Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Where: Room 1, James Lawrence Pavilion, Beef Australia expo, Rockhampton Showgrounds.

Media: Mark Symons 32396530

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