CSIRO: public resources for private profit (27/3/2007)

CSIRO: public resources for private profit
Gene Ethics, News Media Release - March 27 2007

CSIRO Plant Industry sacked leading soil and organic researcher Dr Maarten Stapper last week. His research on healthier soil systems and criticisms of crop Gene Manipulation (GM) upset CSIRO management.

"This travesty of justice shows again that priorities for taxpayer-funded research are grossly distorted by CSIRO contracts with companies, that direct public funds to private profits," says Bob Phelps, director of Gene Ethics.

"Stapper was sacked because GM giants like Bayer and Monsanto can't patent know-how on healthier soils," he says.

"Scientists who publish negative evidence about GM technology and its products are victimised, everywhere in the world," he says.

"Australian governments spent $1.29 billion on GM research from 2003 to 2005 alone (Warren Truss MP, Media Release, June 2005) and how this money is allocated should be the subject of public discussion," he says.

"Gene Ethics calls for a democratic system of funding policy and decisions to set research and development priorities. Our scarce R&D resources are now being misallocated by those who stand to gain most," he says.

"GM has failed to fulfill its promises so Australian taxpayers and producers are ripped off," Mr Phelps says.

"Even where success is claimed, the companies with patented genes benefit most. For instance, GM cotton was developed by CSIRO and Cotton Australia at taxpayer and grower expense, but Monsanto's technology fee is well over $150 for every hectare grown," he says.

"Billions are spent on GM, but research on the sustainable biological and organic farming systems needed to cope with climate change and the end of oil is under-funded," he says.

"CSIRO chief Jeremy Burdon's claim that environmentally friendly systems are 'not a long term viable strategy' is refuted by their success. Sustainable organics are the fastest growing sector of Australian farming and they will not use GM or synthetic chemicals," he says.

"Repairing Australia's systemic agronomic and environmental problems on farms is urgent. But the funds go to GM crop research that can't solve our core problems - salty, acidic, chemical polluted, drought affected, denuded, and waterlogged soils," he says.

"Public-good research is starved of funds as it does not enrich the companies or keep hi-tech lab scientists working on GM plants," he says.

"For instance, disbanding the CRC for Weed Management because it lacked corporate partners was another foolish, short-sighted travesty," he says.

"CSIRO is failing us badly. Gene Ethics calls on state governments to fund Dr Stapper's soil health research, increase his funding and recruit more staff for sustainable farming projects," Mr Phelps concludes.

More comment: Bob Phelps 03 9347 4500 or 0408 195 099 ................................................................................................

BFA Press Release, Tuesday, 27 March 2007 CSIRO Scraps Research Program: Huge Loss for Organic Farmers

"The Biological Farmers of Australia is deeply concerned that CSIRO has decided to scrap the work of Dr Maarten Stapper an agronomist within CSIRO Plant Industry. This area of research that is critical not only to the organic sector, but also to the thousands of farmers around Australia right now developing better soil biology - specifically during a time of massive investment in finding sustainable and effective means of sequestering atmospheric carbon," said Scott Kinnear spokesperson for BFA.

Elaine Ingham and Arden Anderson have operated successful farm seminars that thousands of farmers have attended and the work of Maarten Stapper supported the principles put forward in their work.

"For Dr Burdon to say that CSIRO does not consider biological and organic farming to be "a long-term viable strategy" is extraordinary. At no time has CSIRO approached our organisation to discuss their views or to seek input on the technologies and processes undertaken on cutting edge organic farms. The BFA finds this statement akin to IBM's 1950s view of the world market for computers being a total of 5!"

"The rest of the world is getting behind research into organic farming and now looking at the quality characteristics of organic foods compared with conventionally grown foods. In addition most State Governments are actively developing research and development programs to support the growth of the organic sector to supply the demand coming domestically and from export markets in Asia, Nth America and Europe."

"We have for many years been concerned at the commercialisation of research within CSIRO whereby patentable technologies with income generation potential are favoured. This applies to their research into genetically engineered foods which has cost CSIRO many tens of millions of dollars for no commercial food product to show. Remember the failed CSIRO GE field pea that caused an allergic reaction in mice, shelved last year at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

"We believe that the States should look closely at employing Maarten Stapper, who by all accounts was one of the most sort after presenters at field days and seminars because his research was cutting edge and provided real immediate benefits. We are most concerned that CSIRO is prepared to say they see no future in organic farming, yet are prepared to waste extraordinary amounts of money supporting genetic engineering that the general public overall does not want. Demand for organic food is growing at about 15% per year globally and estimates put the market at more than A$50 billion."

"We must remember that European farming has been disastrous for our ancient and fragile soils in Australia and one of the fundamental keys to soil fertility under our unique conditions, which are so different to North America and Europe, is the healthy maintenance of biological activity in the soil. Farmers are aware that healthy soil biology increases carbon which improves structure and capacity to hold water and ultimately leads to an improved soil which will yield more food of higher quality."

"It seems that CSIRO has conveniently ended their one small research program supporting biological and organic farming while at the same time ending the employment of a scientist who was privately critical of genetic engineering. The fact that he was very much admired and supported by the farming community really adds insult to injury with this decision."

"The BFA calls on CSIRO to rethink their decision to drop this research and we will be seeking a face to face meeting with Dr Burdon and the relevant Minister to ask them to explain CSIRO's views."

The BFA is the largest organic organisation in Australia comprising of farmers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, consumers and exporters. Through its subsidiary certification organisations Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and Organic Growers of Australia (OGA) the BFA provides certification services to approximately 75% of the organic sector.

For further comment contact Scott Kinnear, mobile ph: 0419 881 729

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