MP attacks scientist on GM canola (3/12/2007)

1.MP attacks scientist on GM canola
2.The kind of Gene Technology Regulator Australia has

EXTRACT: 'In 2002, Gus Nossal saw the issue of adoption of GM as merely a public relations battle that had to be won. His stance was so entrenched that Monsanto used his statements in their own marketing.'

NOTE: If you really wanted an independent review, is Gus Nossal the person you'd appoint to over see it (item 1)? But then, look at Australia's Gene Technology Regulator (item 2), on whom the review relied for safety issues.


1.MP attacks scientist on GM canola
Gus Nossal 'saw issue as PR battle'
David Rood
The Age, December 4 2007

Outspoken state Labor MP Tammy Lobato has questioned the independence of Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, branding as 'seriously compromised' his government-appointed panel that recommended the lifting of a ban on genetically modified crops.

The Government last week accepted the panel's recommendation to remove the four-year ban on growing GM canola, despite facing a backlash from within Labor caucus.

Last week, Ms Lobato launched a scathing attack on Premier John Brumby, accusing him of ignorance and comparing the effects of GM crops to those of asbestos and thalidomide.

Now she has accused Sir Gus of having set ideas on GM crops before the review into the economic impact of lifting the ban.

'In 2002, Gus Nossal saw the issue of adoption of GM as merely a public relations battle that had to be won. His stance was so entrenched that (multi-national company) Monsanto used his statements in their own marketing,' she said.

In an ABC radio interview last year, Sir Gus said the ban on GM crops was 'crass populism' and bad policy and politics.

He has rejected Ms Lobato's claims, telling The Age his views on GM technology were raised with former premier Steve Bracks, who appointed him. Sir Gus said he told Mr Bracks he was an 'unashamed proponent' of genetic research for the potential it had to improve crops.

'However, the terms of reference had nothing to do with the health aspect of GM canola or the environmental safety,' Sir Gus said. 'It purely had to do with asking the question whether lifting the moratorium at the end of four years would help, or not help, trade and economic issues. And I had a completely open mind on that matter.'

Mr Brumby last week defended Sir Gus' independence.

'Sir Gus, former Australian of the year because of his contribution to science, looks objectively at those things and he makes an objective judgement,' he said.

Cabinet's decision to remove the ban on GM canola means the crop can be grown from March next year.

Ms Lobato and four other Labor MPs - Martin Foley, Christine Campbell, Jenny Mikakos and Carlo Carli - wrote submissions to Sir Gus' review panel calling for the ban to be maintained.

Ms Lobato said Victorian exports to Europe would come under threat if the state adopted GM crops, because the European Union remained sceptical about the crops.

'With GM . . . we would be releasing something into the environment which can never be recalled,' she said.

But the review panel found removing the ban would not affect Australian canola exports and said the responsibility for assessing the health and environmental impact of GM crops rested with the Commonwealth Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The review noted the regulator had approved two forms of GM canola in 2003, finding they posed 'no greater risk to human health or the environment than did conventionally bred canola'.


2.The kind of Gene Technology Regulator Australia has

In December 2001 Dr Sue Meek became Australia's inaugural Gene Technology Regulator. She was the first appointee under the Gene Technology Act 2000, which 'provides a comprehensive legal framework for the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Australia, in order to protect human health and safety and the environment.'

At the end of December 2003 the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) announced the approval for the license of Monsanto's GM Roundup Ready canola (oilseed rape). The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) called for a parliamentary enquiry into this decision and a review of the employment of Sue Meek as Gene Technology Regulator. 'It is not acceptable for the OGTR to ignore submissions, ignore advisory committees and misrepresent the legislation,' they said. (OGTR decision not acceptable )

Upon appointment, Dr Meek said she was a firm believer in 'having regulatory systems in place to ensure there are safeguards for the community and the environment', adding, 'As the Regulator, I am neither a proponent, nor critic, of gene technologies, but it is my job to vigorously implement the new laws which govern the development, trial and release of GMOs in the best interest of all Australians.' (New Technology Regulator Takes Up Position)

But some questioned the extent to which Dr Meek could be seen as not 'a proponent' of gene technologies given her professional background. According to Dr Meek's CV, from 1984-88 she was Technical Director of her own company, Sue Meek and Associates, 'specialising in the commercialisation of biologically-based ventures'. She was also engaged at this time as Executive Officer to the South Australian Biotechnology Promotion Committee.

Although she subsequently moved into the public sector, all of her subsequent posts prior to becoming Gene Technology Regulator have also placed her in an industry-sympathetic role involving encouraging the development of the biotechnology industry and the commercialisation of its products. Dr Meek was for several years Executive Director of the Science and Technology Division, in the Department of Commerce and Trade. Prior to that she was Manager of the Emerging Industries Branch, of the Department of State Development, with responsibilities that included improving the State's capacity 'to identify, develop and adopt opportunities' from industries such as biotechnology. Dr Meek has also been Manager of the Biotechnology Branch, in the Technology and Industry Development Authority, and as such 'responsible for promoting the establishment and development of biotechnology-based industry'.

She is also a member of both the Australian Institute of Company Directors and AusBiotech. The latter describes itself as 'the national body of companies and individuals dedicated to the development and prosperity

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