A bill recently pushed through federal parliament has the potential to threaten state moratoriums on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by granting new powers to the federal agriculture minister, a WA anti-GMO activist told Green Left Weekly.
Say No to GMO campaigner Janet Grogan is worried the Gene Technology Amendment (GTA) bill will be used to bypass state regulations and community consultation to introduce unwanted GM crops.
"At stake is the future of the Ord River, in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia, which has been marked out for GM cotton by bio-tech companies Monsanto and Bayer CropScience. The federal government has vowed to pressure WA to lift its ban on GM crops as part of negotiations surrounding development of the second stage of the Ord", Grogan said.
At the government's Northern Australian Land and Water Taskforce inaugural meeting on June 29, the Ord River region was high on the agenda, with GM cotton tabled as a first crop. While WA agriculture minister Kim Chance is on record committing his government to maintain the moratorium on the commercial production of GM crops, the state government has recently given approval for a 100-hectare GM cotton research trial on the Ord.
A number of consumer and farmer groups and NGOs are campaigning for the current moratorium on GM crops to remain for another 10 years after it expires in 2008. "But even if we succeed in convincing the WA government, the GTA bill would enable the federal government to override its decision", Grogan said.
"Under the bill's new emergency provisions, the federal agriculture minister could use drought or pest problems to justify the release of GM crops, with no requirement for a safety assessment or approval from the states", Grogan explained. "The bill also removes the requirement for community consultation when dealings may pose significant risks to the health and safety of people or the environment, and when genetically engineered [GE] crops are field-tested."
Grogan said the federal government seems absolutely determined to bring GE crops to market. "It has invested millions of dollars in GE crops through CSIRO and is calling on all the states to lift their bans [on GE food crops]. This pro-GM agenda has permeated many of the government's agencies including Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). So far, FSANZ has rubber-stamped as safe every GE crop that has come across its desk."
"The government appears to be yielding to pressure from the US to lift trade barriers", she said. "At the moment 85% of GM crops are grown in North and South America. If the federal government decides that, due to the drought, the Ord is the new food basket of Australia, there may be little that the state government, or the people of WA, can do to prevent the introduction of GM crops", Grogan concluded.