The movement to oppose genetically modified crops and foods in Australia received international support for its campaign with the October tour of the Consumers' Union of Japan (CUJ).
The Japanese delegation arrived on October 15 for an eight-day tour to present state agriculture ministers in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia with petitions urging them to keep bans on GM crops or face the loss of Japanese markets should they adopt GM canola. The bans are due for review in February 2008.
CUJ, founded in 1969, is an alliance of 57 consumer and farming groups and individuals, and represents 2.9 million people. CUJ has campaigned on many issues related to food health and safety, including actively opposing GM seeds.
The delegation included Keisuke Amagasa (Citizens' Biotechnology Information Centre), Setsuko Matsuda (Green Co-op Consumers' Co-operative Union) and spokesperson Ryoko Shimizu (Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative Union).
In Perth CUJ held discussions with representatives from the Grain Pool, farmers and growers groups, as well as the other agriculture minister Kim Chance who, unlike his state counterparts, has upheld the GM moratorium. He also recently introduced the Seed Amendment Bill, 2007 which will make GM seeds "prohibited seeds for cultivation, sale or import", a move that will reinforce the current moratorium.
Ryoko Shimizu said the group had three main concerns about GM seeds, particularly canola, the first being the lack of independent research into the seeds' safety. Many studies have been conducted by the bio-tech companies, making their reliability questionable, and given the adverse effects found in some feeding trials, CUJ believes there should be more independent studies.
The second concern is contamination. Although Japan does not grow GM canola, it grows in many areas having been windblown or lost during transportation. Due to its GM trait, it is very difficult to eradicate.
The third major concern was that of food sovereignty. CUJ said that the power of patent law could lead to a few multinational companies controlling the world's food supply through patent rights.
The CUJ met with supporters of the WA Say No to GMO campaign including ABC Gardening Australia presenter Josh Byrne, a long-time advocate of organic foods. The campaign's petition which demands that the state's moratorium be extended by another 10 years has recently achieved 10,000 signatures.
Janet Grogan, a WA Say No to GMO activist, said the CUJ delegation reinforced the fact that there is no market for GM foods nationally or internationally. "Why would you want to produce a food that markets won't buy and people won't eat?", she asked.