Push for GM crops continues

August 17, 2007

A specially commissioned federal government report and a one-sided Ord River Irrigation Area (ORIA) discussion paper are being used in a continued drive to force Australian states to introduce genetically modified crops, with dissenting voices shoved aside.

The federal government's GM Canola — an Information Package, launched on August 12, promises that GM canola could make a valuable contribution to agriculture.

There is currently a ban on the cultivation of GM food crops in all states except Queensland, but there have been indications that NSW and Victoria will lift their moratoriums.

According to an August 12 AAP report, federal agriculture minister Peter McGauran claimed that "This report adds further weight to the argument that state governments should immediately lift their moratoriums on GM crops so that Australian farmers can have access to the benefits of this technology."

Western Australian agriculture minister Kim Chance was reported in the August 14 West Australian as saying the state will review its moratorium next year. While agreeing with the "agronomic advantages" of GM canola, he expressed concerns about consumer attitudes.

The WA government has recently approved a 2ha trial of GM canola near Esperance and a 100ha trial of GM cotton on the Ord River.

On August 3, Chance released a discussion paper on GM cotton in the ORIA. It made room for critics of GMO crops in three of its 49 pages, jammed in as addendums.

Stephen David, representing the organic industry, questioned the economic benefits of GMOs, pointing out that cotton prices have fallen by close to 54% on world markets since 1990 and are currently below the price where cotton becomes profitable. Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers disputed the environmental benefits, claiming toxins released by Bt cotton (which is genetically modified to protect against insects) were not included as chemical pollution, and mentioned that insects and weeds targeted by genetic modification are susceptible to developing resistance.

Chris Tallentire of the Conservation Council of WA raised the issue of water consumption, stating that the insertion of genes into cotton to enable it to resist pests did not render it less thirsty. He also said that charges and fees payable to GM patent holders were not factored into the economic analysis.

Say No to GMO campaign activist Janet Grogan told Green Left Weekly that the pressure from consumers must be kept up. "Consumers have a right to be sceptical about GM food. Independent studies show worrying health results and the report on GM canola sheds no new light on GM technology that would reassure us."

Grogan said farmers also have cause to be concerned. "Contamination issues were ignored by the report. Yet in the last ten years there have been 146 reported GM contamination incidents globally, 18% relating to GM canola."

"It's the biotech companies which stand to make a profit here, not the average farmer", she said. "The GM moratorium in WA needs to be extended, not removed."

Public submissions are being accepted until August 31.

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