|State governments provoke GM crops outrage (5/12/2007)|
1.Western Australia won't relax GM ban 2.Farmers ignored as NSW lift moratoria 3.State governments provoke GM crops outrage 5.Staying clean and green a better choice than GM crops NOTE: Some excellent articles. ---
1.Western Australia won't relax GM ban
2.Farmers ignored as NSW lift moratoria
3.State governments provoke GM crops outrage
5.Staying clean and green a better choice than GM crops
NOTE: Some excellent articles.
---1.WA won't relax GM ban
Western Australian premier Alan Carpenter says his government's policy on genetically-modified canola won't be influenced by decisions in the east.
Last week, Victorian and New South Wales Governments announced an end to their moratoriums on GM-canola.
But Mr Carpenter says he'll ignore calls for an early review of WA's G-M status.
'We've carved out a reputation in Western Australia for being GM-free, for being environmentally friendly, for being very good at managing major resource and agriculture projects and I intend that to stay exactly as it is,' he says.
'Put it this way - we gave a commitment at the last election that there'd be no change to our GM free food status. And there won't be.'
2.Farmers ignored as NSW lift moratoria
New South Wales officially lifted the moratoria on GM canola last night after passing amendments to the legislation. The Network of Concerned Farmers is appalled at the decision claiming their genuine concerns have been ignored and government has been poorly advised.
'GM is about making money out of farmers, not for farmers,' said Juliet McFarlane, NCF spokesperson and member of the NSW Agricultural Council on Gene Technology. 'Our New South Wales Government obviously did not take issues seriously if they held the debate in the evening of their Christmas Party with only six people present and others only ducking in to vote against serious risk management amendments.'
'Its just not good enough. Non-GM farmers will be forced to accept economic loss caused by market rejection of our non-GM products when it is contaminated by GM.'
'Farmers have been sold out by farm lobby groups relying on misleading information from groups with a vested interest. Farmers already grow herbicide tolerant canola and we are not being offered anything other than GM herbicide tolerant canola yet benefits that are not relevent are being promoted.'
As evidence of this misunderstanding, NCF quoted the NSW Hansards 'The President of the New South Wales Farmers Association, Jock Laurie said '…with GM crops potentially meaning fewer emissions and less chemical use, healthier soil and more sustainable farming practices.' The National Farmers' Federation president, David Crombie was quoted as saying : 'This will make farmers more efficient and competitive on the world stage.'
'The information promoted can be easily proven to be wrong.' said Mrs McFarlane. 'When farm lobby groups rely on those with a vested interest in GM for GM information, it is no wonder they are confused and fighting internally over this issue.'
The NCF claim the five year rotation trials performed by Jim Pratley of Charles Sturt University showed that GM led to a preference to use more tillage and more toxic chemicals which gives a completely opposite claim to what is promoted.
'Australia will be the first country to introduce a patented GM food crop without paying subsidies to counter higher costs and lower commodity prices.' warned Mrs McFarlane.
'Eighty percent of the commodity based subsidies in US are allocated to soy, corn and cotton, their GM crops. When Canadian farmers net income plummetted below zero after the introduction of GM canola, subsidies were increased to Can $4.9billion/year after 7,000 farmers marched on the streets protesting with special reference to the hardship of canola growers. Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay do not recognise the GM patent and the associated restriction on farmers to prevent farmers replanting their own seed.'
'To level the playing field with international competitors growing GM will be to send farmers broke or pay subsidies.'
Contact: Juliet McFarlane 02 63822509
or Julie Newman 08 98711562
3.State governments provoke GM crops outrage
Last week the Victorian and NSW governments decided to allow cultivation of genetically modified (GM) canola. The decision was greeted with amazement and anger by other state governments, farmers and environmental groups.
In Queensland cultivating GM canola is legal, but has not proceeded, while other states have banned the practice. However, what was in effect a national ban has now been overturned by the decisions of the NSW and Victorian Governments.
The case against GM
GM cotton is grown in Australia, and certainly has advantages for growers. The amount of chemicals needed to eliminate insects and weeds is minimised, and the new GM varieties resist drought and produce high yields. However, cultivation of GM crops for textile production has less serious implications than the production of GM grain, such as canola, for human consumption.
GM opponents point out that there has been inadequate study of the effects of GM products on human health. Scientists have experienced difficulty in gaining seed for testing from seed companies, but one Russian study found that laboratory animals fed on GM grain food had low growth rates, reduced life spans and infertile progeny. Scientist Dr Rachel McFadyen has also pointed out that there is a potential for herbicide resistance characteristics to cross from GM crops into adjacent weed species, which would become 'super weeds'.
GM proponents have claimed that great economic benefits would flow from the production of GM canola, which is used in the manufacture of margarine. and other food. However, canola growers would lose access to markets in nations which have banned GM canola, including China, Japan and the EEC.
Victorian Premier John Brumby has claimed that his decision would give more choice to farmers. But farmers who do not want GM crop contamination have been given no choice at all in the matter — nor have consumers.
How the decisions were made
The NSW and Victorian Governments appear to have relied only on evidence provided by the commercial plant industry. GM technology has been endorsed by Sir Gustav Nossell, the Victorian Chief Scientist, and Dr Jim Peacock, the Commonwealth Chief Scientist. Nonetheless, on other environmental issues such as climate change Dr Peacock’s advice has corresponded closely to the line being promoted by major industry groups.
The decision by Commonwealth food, pesticide and gene technology regulators to approve the release of two GM canola varieties three years ago is questionable, because of the malignant influence of the Howard government. CSIRO officials have endorsed the use of GM crops, but under the Howard government they were pressured to achieve commercial objectives, and to work closely with major industrial corporations. Former CSIRO staff have now spoken out against the commercialisation of the organisation and against GM crop cultivation.
Unlike its Victorian counterpart, the NSW government has said it would re-impose a ban on GM canola production if the industry failed to satisfy an expert government subcommittee investigating the issue. However, the subcommittee appears to be primarily concerned with determining whether GM canola seed can be transported without contaminating other crops, not whether food from GM crops is safe for human consumption.
It's a national issue
As the Canadian experience has clearly demonstrated, GM grains sown in one area will inevitably spread to the others, so the crops grown in NSW and Victoria will spread to other states, and many grain markets will be lost to Australia.
South Australian MP Ian Gilfilan commented: 'Canola has proved physically impossible to segregate. In three to four years it will be impossible to market genetically engineered-free product. This is a point of no return.'
The unilateral decisions by the NSW and Victorian governments have enormous commercial and legal implications, arising from the potential loss of markets and contamination of non-GM crops. After Canada began producing GM canola it lost its access to markets in the EEC and Japan, which ban the import of GM canola.
The agricultural organisation, the Network of Concerned Farmers, claims that the NSW/Victoria decisions would cost Australian canola farmers $143 million per annum, and $65 million of that burden would be carried by non-GM producers.
A recent poll found that more than 52 percent of farmers oppose the introduction of GM grain crops, and only 27.6 percent supported it. Nevertheless, the NSW and Victorian governments are in lock-step with the biotechnology industry, which stands to make a fortune from the cultivation of GM grain crops in Australia.
The Rudd Government has stressed the overwhelming importance of the environment and climate change by creating two separate ministries to deal with each of these issues. However, it remains to be seen whether Rudd will step in and overturn the decisions of the NSW and Victorian governments to allow GM grain production. It’s doubtful. The nation should watch the actions of these governments very closely on this issue, and make its voice heard.
4.Farmers fearful over GM crop 'risk'
Organic food farmers and consumers on the Northern Rivers hold grave fears for the organic food industry after the controversial lifting of a ban on genetically modified (GM) food crops.
The NSW and Victorian governments announced late last month they would allow the growing of GM canola crops from next year, with NSW Primary Industries Minister, Ian Macdonald, saying farmers had been missing out on export opportunities to the US and Canada because of the failure to adopt GM canola.
Opponents have labelled the move as 'letting the genie out of the bottle' with fears that the wide use of GM crops will lead to irreversible contamination of non-GM crops including organic food.
'It's crazy and not worth the risk' – that's how health-conscious mum and organic food consumer Susie Godden, of Koonorigan, described the lifting of bans on GM food crops.
Ms Godden, a regular customer at the Rainbow Region Organic Market in Lismore – the first certified organic food market in Australia – said the precedent-setting decision was 'disgusting' because once GM crops are grown in the country 'you cannot stop it getting into (contaminating) organic or non-GM crops'.
'We have no idea what on earth it's going to do to us… the politicians and scientists who made the decision only talk about its economic benefits,' she said. 'It seems few countries want it – in Europe people want to become GM free but the European Union is holding them back. It's government and big business pushing it.
'It makes more sense if Australia is completely GM free. We're so far away from the rest of the world, so it's an ideal place because there’s no chance of GM seeds drifting in.'
David Roby, a member of the Tweed Richmond Organic Producers Organisation (TROPO) who grows organic vegetables on his farm at Alstonville, said that once GM crops started growing 'they will be everywhere as they won’t recognise fence lines'.
'For people that want it, that's fine, but for people who don't, they have lost their choice,' he said. 'An example of the risk of contamination are the canola harvester. They are sub-contracted and it’s not necessary for farmers to tell contractors when they are working on a GM crop, so there will always be residues or seeds left on the harvester,' he said. 'There is also supposed to be a one-metre buffer zone around GM crops but the seeds will carry all the way over to New Zealand, so a couple of metres is pointless.'
Mr Roby said in the case of GM food it was better to err on the side of caution.
'Eventually GM could be a technology of great value to us, given another 20 years of trial and error,' he said. 'GM means they can spray a crop with herbicides/pesticides without killing the crop so they’ll use more of them, not less. If it was used to rid us of cane toads or fruit fly, people may be more happy about it.'
Queensland allows GM crops and Tasmania is currently reviewing the ban. South Australia’s current ban is due to expire in April next year while the rest of the states and territories retain bans.
The NSW Farmers Association says the end of the four-year moratorium on GM canola crops was a win for the 'future prosperity of agriculture'.
Association president Jock Laurie said giving farmers the choice of using GM technology was the key to the sector remaining internationally competitive.
Mr Laurie claimed it was a win for the environment with GM crops 'potentially meaning fewer emissions and less chemical use, healthier soil and more sustainable farming practices'.
Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) spokesman Scott Kinnear said the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) canola was a major affront to the organic food industry.
'Unless farmers undertake expensive tests they will not know if they have been contaminated,' Mr Kinnear said. 'Organic and non-GE food processors will be burdened with additional requirements for tests of grains and oils to manage and eliminate contamination risk… the support for GE canola flies in the face of significant evidence of costs to the economy, health and environment presented to the panels in both Victoria and NSW.
'The organic food industry is the global good news food story – it is growing at 15-20 per cent per year. Governments would reap benefits for the environment and public health by supporting more organic food production rather than GE foods,' Mr Kinnear said.
He told The Echo that canola grain was 'the worst of the worst' in terms of contamination.
'It's the most promiscuous – insects love it, its flowers are very beautiful, so pollen will be easily spread,' he said.
North Coast-based Upper House Greens MP Ian Cohen said there was widespread opposition to GM foods in Australia, with the nation’s largest Australia-owned food company Goodman-Fielder and retailer Coles Supermarkets calling on state governments 'to save our food from genetic engineering'.
Opponents also say that allowing GM crops in Australia meant handing over control of much of the food supply to foreign multinationals like Monsanto and the Bayer group, as they own the patents on GM seeds.
Genethics Network director Bob Phelps said the largest importer of Australian canola, Japan, wanted GM-free canola as did Coles and other food suppliers.
Mr Phelps said canola would cause 'weedy relatives' to spread including pesticide-resilient radish and turnip.
'Why grow it, it just doesn't make sense,' he said.
5.Staying clean and green a better choice than GM crops
Three years ago, the state governments around Australia wisely introduced a moratorium on genetically modified food crops because of concerns within industry, the farming sector and regional communities about the impact of GM crops on Australia's clean and green markets.
Now the Victorian GM ban has been scrapped by the Brumby Government. The NSW Government has done likewise and GM canola is set to be cropped next season. Now South Australia is considering releasing the GM genie.
Renewed enthusiasm for GM hasn't pleased Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT, the respective governments of which oppose GM crops because of fears that GM will harm GM-free exports. Along with canola, at risk are more than $820million in clean canola exports.
Most vocal about protecting its farmers, the West Australian Government is yet to be convinced that GM will not harm Australia's clean and green export markets.
Nor is the Network of Concerned Farmers or agricultural giant Goodman Fielder (manufacturers of Meadow Lea margarine). As Goodman Fielder puts it, 'Australia's current status as a GM-free producer gives the company an essential international competitive advantage.'
The concern shown isn't one based on emotive environmentalism but informed by a series of mainstream agro-economics reports which highlight the increasing importance of premium markets for Australian farmers. Economists consistently find that GM-free export produce frequently commands a higher price than North American GM produce.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, for instance, documents Australian canola prices regularly exceeding GM Canadian prices by about $50 a tonne. Last year Australian canola commanded a whopping $115 a tonne premium.
When making an economic case for the decision, the Victorian Government claimed overall GM canola would bring farmers $115million over eight years. That's only about $15million a year; a very small gain, for a very large risk. But it's not as small as the predicted yield gains of about 5-8 per cent from GM canola that the Victorian Government says will outweigh any GM-free premiums.
In reality, GM may only bring a 2-4per cent yield increase since GM canola crops designed for North American conditions won't fair any better then non-GM under Australian drought conditions. According to figures from Biotech Corporation Monsanto, some Australian trials of GM canola produced yields 16 per cent below the national GM-free average.
In the end increasing yields won't matter much as broader market access and restriction issues determine the value of GM. The global current trends point towards more GM restrictions. The European Union moratorium already restricts about 400,000 tonnes of canola GM from Canada but the EU imports 38 per cent of all Australia's clean canola.
Japan is considering injecting tighter controls into already tough GM import regulations. Stricter Japanese GM laws could have an impact on 41 per cent (300,000 tonnes) of Australian canola exports.
Back in 2005, Australian canola growers received a caution from Japanese quarantine when shipments of Australian canola went over the 1 per cent of GM contamination levels allowed under Japanese GM laws. The pro-GM lobby talks up GM segregation but the fact is trials of GM canola still managed to contaminate Australia's canola. If it were at all possible, segregation on both sides of the fence would cost farmers tens of millions a year. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics alone estimates the cost to non-GM farmers at 5-15 per cent of the farm gate value of their crop. Then there are the potential billions in liability and insurance costs.
Last year, a GM rice scandal cost the United States $US1.2 billion ($A1.4 billion) after 30 countries returned US rice stocks contaminated by GM trials. Farmers and European business subsequently sued for economic losses. Little wonder no commercial GM wheat or rice varieties are grown anywhere in the world.
The long list of economic risks and unknowns continues with climate change and the decreasing availability of clean and green produce. As the fallout of toxic pollution from China becomes more visible, the emergent Asian middle-class consumers are clamouring for uncontaminated food.
If Australia suddenly found itself holding some of the world's last remaining clean produce, right now it makes more economic sense to invest in promoting Australian produce as 'clean and green' rather than investing in GM crops.
The Rudd Government should impose a nationwide moratorium on GM.
6.Tasmanian green groups want to keep GM ban
A coalition of environment groups will push for Tasmania's genetically modified organism (GMO) free status to be maintained.
A Select Parliamentary Committee chaired by the Primary Industries Minister is to investigate whether to lift Tasmania's ban on GM crops early next year.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has indicated it will ask for the ban to be lifted.
Environment Tasmania's Phil Pullinger says environment groups will make a submission urging the Government to keep the ban on GM crops.
'Tasmania does have a very good reputation around the world for its wilderness its clean water its clean air and its fresh produce,' he said.
'But it is critically important that that branding and that image that Tasmania has is a genuine reflection of what's going on on the ground in Tassie.'