Seeds of doubt in Australia (29/11/2007)

1.Opponents says GM research not adequate
2.Anger boils over genetically modified food
3.The internal revolt against John Brumby over GM crops
4.Debate on GM crops hots up in SA
5.Extra costs for GM crops
6.Organic farmers worried about GM threat
7.Seeds of Doubt
8.GM crops open a can of worms
9.Greens call for GM ban to be retained


1.Opponents says GM research not adequate
BRISBANE TIMES, November 28 2007

Victoria and NSW have decided to lift their bans on genetically modified canola crops without the comprehensive scientific research to support the move, opponents say.

They say the two state governments have disproportionately relied on the advice of GM technology supporters and on information that plays down safety and environmental concerns.

The Victorian and NSW governments released reports justifying their moves, saying allowing GM crops would provide economic benefits.

But opponents said the decision was based on limited information.

'One of the problems is the tests that are done are almost always essentially done by the GM crop companies that hope to make a lot of money out of those crops,' Flinders University epidermologist Dr Judy Carmen told ABC Television.

Dr Carmen said more testing was needed before any benefits could be advocated without reservations.

She said neither canola, nor a strain of cotton genetically modified to be resistant to insects, had been as rigorously tested as it could be.

'This comes into the human food supply in the form of cotton seed oil,' Dr Carmen said.

'It is interesting because in both that case and also in canola, the bit that you and I eat, which is actually the oil aspect of that crop, has not been safety assessed at all,' she said.

She said there were no human or animal studies required before CSIRO scientists were able to say the technology-affected food was safe to eat.

Chief Scientist Dr Jim Peacock of the CSIRO has previously urged Australia to go down the GM path.

'If Australia rejects the technology I don't see us remaining able to compete in the global scale of agribusiness,' Dr Peacock said in an earlier ABC Landline interview, played by The 7.30 Report.

The 7.30 Report said Dr Peacock had declined to be interviewed. Instead, CSIRO plant industry chief Dr Jeremy Burdon spoke, defending his colleague's expertise and support for lifting a ban on GM technology.

'One of the icons of CSIRO, he (Dr Peacock) has been a major leader in plant science on the global world stage for virtually his entire career,' Dr Burdon said.

'(Dr Peacock) was always very interested in and concerned to make sure that any science that we did was safe.'

But former CSIRO agronomist Dr Martin Stapper said the organisation wasn't interested in hearing his concerns about GM technology.

'First I was told that I was not allowed to talk in public about it because I was not a geneticist,' Dr Stapper said.

'And if I would talk about it I would be fired.

'But (I) asked the question all the time: 'Give me your study of multi-generation animal feeding study, and I believe that it is safe if I see a four generation animal feeding study'.

'But they never showed me that. And they never instigated a trial like that because they know that it gives negatives. And they don't want to see that.'

Dr Stapper was made redundant, the ABC said.

Japan also had expressed concern about Australia allowing GM canola.

'If Australian farmers start growing GMO canola it would be a very big problem for us,' Japan's spokeswoman Ryoko Shimizu, whose country imports 450,000 tonnes of Australian canola each year, said.


2.Anger boils over genetically modified food
Ashley Gardiner, Holly Ife and Sarah Wotherspoon HERALD SUN, November 29 2007

LABOR MP Jenny Mikakos will defy Premier John Brumby and lobby the Federal Government for better labelling of genetically modified foods.

The move, a direct challenge to Mr Brumby's authority, comes as caucus dissent erupts over the decision to allow GM canola to be grown in Victoria.

Five Labor MPs made anti-GM submissions to a government review, with two yesterday speaking out angrily against Mr Brumby's decision.

Ms Mikakos said consumers wanted to know if the food they ate was genetically modified.

'Before the moratorium is lifted, I'm going to be lobbying my federal Labor counterparts to address the labelling issue,' she said.

Her colleague, Tammy Lobato, branded GM the new asbestos and said she was disgusted by the decision.

'We are acutely aware this week of how legally supplied products such as asbestos and tobacco can have devastating effects down the track,' Ms Lobato said.

'While we are still facing the ever-increasing perils of asbestos, we are giving the green light to a new asbestos -- genetically modified crops.'

Ms Lobato said she was devastated Labor backbenchers were given no say in the decision, and was angry the Victorian Farmers Federation had been told before MPs.

'I'm sure this decision was timed with the anticipation that the public would be sick of politics and not take notice,' she said.

Their comments came just hours after Mr Brumby expressed confidence in the labelling system.

'The reality is that many foods around the world that we now consume in our daily lives have elements of GM in them,' he said.

'Where there are low levels, these things are not declared. Where there are significant levels, they are declared and I think that's a good thing because it's about giving consumers choice.'

Gene ethicists, nutritionists and consumer and green groups have called for a radical overhaul of food labelling laws for products containing genetically modified ingredients. They say Australians could be eating genetically modified food without even realising because of a loophole in food labelling standards.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand regulations state any highly refined foods, including oils and sugars, do not need to be labelled as genetically modified if the refining process removes the altered DNA and protein from the products.

The Herald Sun yesterday found a dozen products on supermarket shelves that contained genetically modified ingredients and were labelled as such.

But Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Louise Sales said many more could contain GM foods without being labelled and that GM canola was likely to be the first of many commercial GM food crops allowed.

She said genetically modified corn and soy were widely grown and used by food manufacturers in Argentina, Brazil and the US and trials of genetically modified pineapples and sugar cane in Queensland, and GM papaya in Thailand.


3.Criticism from within can inflict lasting damage
Paul Austin The Age, November 29 2007 [shortened]

The internal revolt against John Brumby over GM crops may prove costly.

IN POLITICS, it's the internal character references that do the most damage which is why John Brumby should be worried that he's just been branded arrogant and described as a bull in a china shop by one of his own. Ask election losers John Howard and Ted Baillieu about the harm such from-the-inside critiques can cause.

Senior federal Liberals are now willing to acknowledge that once news leaked in September that a majority of the cabinet believed Howard should go, the government was terminal...

Fast-forward to this week. Decisive new Premier John Brumby has pushed through a pet policy of his: an end to the ban on genetically modified crops. He's done so in the face of firm opposition among some of his own MPs to the very idea of GM crops. Of itself, that's no great problem for Brumby: this is an emotive issue about which people of goodwill have diametrically opposed views. The Premier's policy was always going to prevail.

The problem for Brumby, the thing that can be expected to haunt him right up to the 2010 state election, is that several Labor MPs are deeply upset at the way he handled the internal debate. Less than four months into his premiership, Brumby has been hit by a caucus revolt the likes of which never engulfed Bracks during his eight years in the job - and it's all about the new Premier's style.

Members of Brumby's team complain they've been rail-roaded by a premier with a predetermined view. Backbencher Tammy Lobato went public yesterday, saying not only that she was 'appalled and disgusted' by this 'ignorant' and 'short-sighted' decision, but she was 'devastated' that caucus was 'given no say'.

Anonymously, another MP told The Age Brumby was 'treating caucus like idiots'. And this: 'Brumby is like a break-through kind of character. He's like a bull in a china shop. He just won't listen.' And then this: 'This is Brumby's arrogance and crash-through style at play here. He's good at numbers, but he can't read people.'

Wow. Ted Baillieu could not have put it better himself. And that's the point: this internal critique of Brumby colours in the sketch the Liberals are drawing of the new Premier.

The Liberals' advertising agency will have an easy time of it come the next election campaign. A bull in a china shop? That's exactly the phrase John Cain's Labor government used to warn voters away from opposition leader Jeff Kennett in the 1985 election campaign. Brumby just won't listen? What a contrast with Bracks, who went to the 2002 election with the slogan 'Steve Bracks listens, then acts'. Brumby is arrogant? Again, what a contrast: Bracks was believable when he said no one who knew him would accuse him of being arrogant. Brumby is good at numbers but can't read people? That's precisely the Liberals' case: that Brumby may have been adept in the Treasury portfolio, but he was found out when he was opposition leader in the 1990s and he'll be found out again now that he's Premier.

Brumby concedes nothing to his internal critics. He says the GM debate within the Government was 'impeccable'. As for the complaints that he did not take proper heed of those with opposing positions, 'in my own heart I've done everything right in terms of listening to those views'.

Typically, he is not satisfied with winning the war by getting the policy outcome he sought; he also wants to win the battle by letting the critics of his style know that he reckons they're wrong.

'New leadership' is the political phrase du jour. Victoria has got its own version.

Paul Austin is state political editor.


4.Debate on GM crops hots up in SA
The Age, November 29 2007

Greenpeace has entered the debate over genetically modified (GM) crops in South Australia as the Australian Democrats called for a conscience vote to decide the issue in state parliament.

Following a decision by NSW and Victoria to lift the ban on GM canola from next year, Greenpeace activists delivered about 3,000 postcards from SA consumers to state parliament calling on the state government to extend its ban on all GM crops.

The moratorium is due to expire in April and the government said this week it would respond to an expert report before that time.

The postcards were accepted by Australian Democrats MP Sandra Kanck who wants the GM ban extended to 2013 and has called for it to be subject to a conscience vote.

'We say science has not proved them (GM crops) to be safe and South Australia stands to lose the worldwide market for GM free food,' Ms Kanck said.

'Like stem cell technology, GM is experimental with consequences yet to be determined.

'This is an important issue and the community has differing views so I say let's do what we often do on social issues, that is allow MPs a conscience vote.

'That way all MPs can weigh up the issues and vote on the evidence and their beliefs instead of hiding behind their parties.'

The state government said it was still assessing the report from the Genetically Modified Crops Advisory Committee.

'We will respond to the recommendations in the report in a timely manner well ahead of the deadline for the end of the current moratorium,' acting Agriculture Minister Paul Holloway said.

Greenpeace genetic engineering campaigner Louise Sales said Victoria's decision to lift its ban on GM canola, raised the spectre of cross-border contamination for SA farmers.

'It is vital that South Australia takes steps to protect its farmers from the economic losses that will occur as result of GE contamination,' she said.

Ms Sales said allowing the commercial release of GE canola would remove choice for the majority of farmers who wanted to grow GE free crops and the majority of consumers who want to consume GE free food.

'Goodman Fielder, the largest end user of canola in Australia, doesn't want GE food crops and, according to recent polls, neither do the majority of consumers, farmers or our key export markets in Japan and Europe,' she said.

'The only stakeholder that appears to want GE food crops is the biotechnology industry - which stands to make a fortune at everyone else's expense if this dangerous, unwanted technology is introduced.'


5.Extra impost for GM crops
ABC, 29/11/2007

Farmers who grow genetically modified canola in Victoria and New South Wales next season could face increased storage and handling fees.

GrainCorp, the largest bulk handler on Australia's east coast, is estimating the additional costs involved in segregating GM canola oilseeds.

GrainCorp managing director Tom Keene says GM canola growers may have to pay extra.

'We already have different costs associated with different commodities now, depending on what's involved in the storage requirement and the transport and movement requirement, so we would expect that to be the same for canola and non GM canola products,' he says.

'But we'll address the pricing issue when we come to next season.'


6.Organic farmers worried about GM threat
ABC, 29 November 2007

Organic food producers are worried about the risk of cross contamination from GM crops. (ABC TV)

The organic farming industry says it lacks the clout to fight a potential introduction of genetically-modified (GM) crops in South Australia, now that Victoria and New South Wales will allow them.

The Farmers Federation's grains council is pushing for South Australia to follow other states and end a moratorium on GM crops next year.

A mid-north organic farmer, Gavin Dunn, says SA's organic food industry could face ruin if the ban is lifted.

He says cross contamination from GM crops could have widespread implications for the industry's profits and future.

Mr Dunn fears the organic industry is too small to influence the decision-making on GM's future.

'It's just the way the world is going you know, corporate power is taking over and it's a real concern altogether,' he said.

Petition from GM opponents

The environment group Greenpeace has delivered 3,000 signed postcards to the South Australian Parliament urging that the moratorium on genetically-modified crops be extended.

South Australia's moratorium is due to end next April, when Victoria and New South Wales will start allowing GM canola.

Simon Jones, from Greenpeace, says the risks of GM crops are undetermined.

'There is a great unknown about it, however there is the very beginnings of evidence coming in that there are serious problems especially with genetically-engineered canola,' he said.

'Health problems for humans, health problems for mice that have been fed GM canola.'


7.Seeds of Doubt
Mercury, 29 November 2007

TASMANIA would be crazy to scrap its ban on genetically modified crops. Body: Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn is right not to follow Victoria and New South Wales down the road to a doubtful GM future.

He says Tasmania will not lift its moratorium on these crops and he has the support of many farmers, food manufacturers and consumer groups as well as the Liberal Opposition and the Greens.

Victoria and New South Wales have chosen a moment of transition between federal governments to approve the production of GM canola, against the wishes of other states.

With a record-breaking drought and uncertain times for the world economy, it is difficult to understand why they are prepared to throw away Australia's competitive advantage as a GM-free producer just when other agricultural regions are paying the price of a consumer backlash.

Consumers worried about these crops are not a fringe group of alternative lifestylers. GM food is an anathema to millions of people in Europe, Japan and North America and is fast becoming an issue for millions more, even in emerging markets such as China.

Their views and spending power are changing the food business everywhere.

European and Japanese manufacturers, distributors and supermarket chains have been forced to ban all GM products and North American producers of GM crops have had to dump their produce in Third World markets because they cannot get a decent price for them in the West.

GM crops such as canola may help farm productivity but they are of no benefit to consumers. Most are suspicious enough of preservatives and other additives that help in the production, storage and transport of food on an industrial scale but do nothing for their own health or well-being.

GM products are the ultimate example of this for many shoppers and they are steering clear in droves. As this trend continues, now is not the time to trade away a GM-free status and risk premium prices to increase the productivity (but probably not profitability) of a handful of farms.

Some scientists say there is no evidence of risk to consumers and little chance of modified crops contaminating others but their findings are controversial and consumer groups are not convinced. Mr Llewellyn and his West Australian counterpart Kim Chance fear 'large-scale contamination' of farms across the country.

It is a shame Australia's unified approach to the issue is falling apart, threatening the country's good name in overseas markets, but if other states decide to sacrifice their GM-free status it may open a marketing opportunity for Tasmania, which already has a great reputation for premium foods.

A parliamentary select committee is reviewing the state moratorium and there is simply no justification for lifting the ban before it has reached its conclusions.

Tasmania's best policy is to remain free and wait and see.


8.GM crops open a can of worms
ORANGE, 29 November 2007

THERE will be no choice for canola growers who want their crops to remain free of genetically modified (GM) canola, according to local opponents of the State Government's decision to lift a ban on the technology.

Proposed legislation allowing the start of GM cropping in NSW includes the establishment of an expert committee which will assess whether the industry will be able to separate GM and non-GM crops.

The minister for primary industries will have the power to refuse approval to cultivate a crop which cannot meet criteria imposed by the committee.

Those involved in various aspects of the local canola industry, from growing and harvesting to refining and crushing, disagreed on whether this would be possible.

Arthur Bowman from the Network of Concerned Farmers said growers would no longer be able to guarantee their crops were GM free and would lose valuable Asian and European markets.

'There's still a big desire from the overseas market to take this product while it can be guaranteed. But it's impossible to grow GM and GM-free side-by-side. You can't stop a bee flying over the fence, you can't stop the wind blowing and you can't stop human error. Contamination is inevitable,' he said.

Peter MacSmith from MacSmith Milling in Manildra said there would be both positive and negative aspects to lifting the four-year moratorium.

'Hopefully for farmers and industry it will give them access to varieties that will help with weed control, drought resistance and quality issues. It's going to be a collaborative effort, from the farmers to the refiner and crusher. It will certainly add some cost to our business, having to segregate,' he said.

The NSW Farmers' Association has welcomed the news of the government's decision.

As much as of 70 per cent of global trade in canola is in GM crops.

Mr MacSmith said he did not believe the decision would create export difficulties because a 'diminishing proportion' of markets were demanding GM-free, however, Mr Bowman did not agree that was the case and said GM-free markets were willing to pay a premium for Australian canola.

The Network of Concerned Farmers will make a presentation in Sydney tonight and farmers including Mr Bowman will lobby State Government MPs on the issue.


9.Greens call for GM ban to be retained
ABC, Nov 29 2007

The WA Greens say the moratorium on genetically modified crops should continue so the state maintains its competitive advantage.

There have been calls for Western Australia to consider an early review of its moratorium after New South Wales and Victoria lifted their bans this week.

The Greens' Member for the South West, Paul Llewellyn, says it is the wrong conversation to be having at this point.

He says those pushing for the introduction of GM crops are still refusing to accept strict liability if something goes wrong.

Mr Llewellyn says the moratorium needs to stay in place.

'If Western Australia is going to maintain its advantages, its competitive advantages, in, for example, the canola industry globally, then we need to be sure that we don't get contamination with GM product,' he said.

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