Despite opposition from farmers and consumers, big-business biotech companies scored a major victory on November 27 when both the New South Wales and Victorian governments gave the green light to the commercial cultivation of genetically modified food crops. This opens the gate for pro-GM groups to lobby other states which have not yet agreed to commercial production of GM crops.
NSW and Victoria have decided not to extend moratoriums on growing GM canola, which have been in place for four years and expire in February 2008.
Until now ,there have been trials of GM food crops, but there has been a moratorium in place in each state on commercial cultivation. Queensland and NSW allow the commercial growing of GM cotton.
On the same day that the NSW and Victoria governments capitulated, WA agriculture minister Kim Chance and Tasmanian primary industries and water minister David Llewellyn appealed to Victoria, NSW and South Australia to keep their bans in place. They said the likelihood of contamination would increase the risks to WA and Tasmanian GM-free agriculture and threaten exports.
Immediately after the announcements, GM supporters, including WA Farmers and University of WA plant biologist Stephen Powles, issued press releases complaining that WA growers were being left behind in the race to adopt GM technology and forfeiting boosted crop yields.
However other growers' groups opposed the decision. The Australian Grain Harvesters Association expressed dismay that the moratorium had been lifted without granting its members legal protection from court action over contamination.
The Network of Concerned Farmers claimed contamination of non-GM crops was inevitable and that introducing GM canola would cost canola farmers $143 million a year.
A poll by rural newspaper The Land found that over half of farmers did not think GM grain crops should be grown. Another 20% were unsure; only 27.6% were in favour.
"Say No to GMO" campaigner Janet Grogan told Green Left Weekly that there is majority support for GM-free among farmers, shoppers, the food industry and state governments. "The push to introduce GM crops is motivated by the profits the biotech companies estimate they can make, rather than real benefits to farmers or consumers", she said.
Coles Supermarkets representative Chris Mara told a November 20 parliamentary forum in Victoria that "Coles listens to our customers and over 90% do not want GM ingredients in their food".
One issue for consumers is that, because of the January 2005 Australia-US free trade agreement, there is currently no requirement for GM labelling of consumer products.
In WA, there has been a strong campaign Say No to GMO, which has visited hundreds of community groups and collected more than 14,000 signatures from all over the state on a petition demanding a 10-year extension of GM moratorium.
Grogan told GLW: "At this stage WA Premier Alan Carpenter has said the WA ban would not be reviewed until the scheduled period in late 2008. But we can't leave it there. We consumers and farmers have to make our voices heard loud and clear. The campaign needs to accelerate in order to keep WA GM-free." Anti-GM group Gene Ethics wants the ban on GM food crops to be extended until at least 2013.