GM crops reap harvest of opposition in Australia (13/5/2004)

GM crops reap harvest of opposition
By Victoria Laurie and AAP

TRADITIONAL owners in the West Kimberley region have closed the door on a proposed genetically modified cotton industry for Broome, and told the West Australian Government they will no longer talk to industry backers.

Twenty-five Aboriginal elders declared a "no cotton on country" policy in Broome yesterday, in a clear ultimatum to the Gallop Government.

The move came as Agribusiness giant Monsanto pulled the plug on its genetically modified canola breeding programs in Australia following a series of state moratoriums on the practice.

Monsanto spokesman Mark Buckingham said the company could no longer tolerate the commercial uncertainty created by the patchwork of different regulations across the states.

Monsanto would suspend investment in Roundup Ready canola in 2004, and review the decision next year.

The suspension follows a NSW Government ban on a 3000ha trial of GM canola last month. Western Australia and Tasmania have both banned GM crops, while Victoria extended its moratorium in April by four years. South Australia has also a moratorium in place.

In delivering their 'no cotton' message yesterday, elders from the Karajarri, Yawuru and Nyingina-Mangala indigenous groups said it was "a unanimous decision by the law bosses of this country".

"The country and the water that's underneath is more important. We'd like to think that talk of cotton is over," said Yawuru spokesman Neil McKenzie.

The traditional owners called for an end to all cotton feasibility studies, refused any further discussion with the scheme's proponents, Western Agricultural Industries, and vowed to block access to 225,000 hectares of West Kimberley leases earmarked for cotton production.

WAI has already failed to meet deadlines for aquifer and soil testing due to the refusal of traditional owners to grant access for drilling. Limited trials of GM cotton crops were halted three years ago due to local opposition.

In 1998, WAI signed a memorandum of understanding with the Liberal Court government to investigate growing cotton on Broome's surrounding plains.

Since then, the company has been granted two extensions to prove its suitability but its current MOU expires at the end of next month.

The company, which declined to comment on yesterday's ultimatum, is seeking another three years to complete feasibility trials.

WAI, which claims to have spent $7 million on the trials so far, recently sold off its Kimberley pastoral stations on a partial lease-back deal.

Department of Industry and Resources project manager David Meehan, for the state Government, said the Government was unhappy with WAI's protracted delays.

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