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Australia: Bans on Genetically Modified Crops lifted Despite Wide Opposition
Bans on commercial growing of genetically-modified (GM) canola crops have been lifted by the Governments of two Australian states - New South Wales and Victoria - despite pleas from the Western Australian and Tasmanian Governments, and over 250 companies in the food business to maintain the moratorium, and Japanese food buyers urging continuation of the ban in October. The moratorium on GM canola will be lifted from February/March 2008.
Genetically modified Canola is marketed by Monsanto and Bayer Cropscience. Over 70% of Canadian Canola is now GM, with wide contamination of the Canola crop. In 2004 Monsanto were even successful in a prosecution of small Canadian farmers Percy and Louise Schmeiser violating the company's patent on genetically modified canola (rapeseed), through GM canola seeds that invaded their property.
The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF), an alliance of Australian farmers, have countered with the release of a report on the economic costs of genetically modified (GM) canola, revealing that the introduction of GM canola will cause a loss to Australian canola farmers of over $143 million a year with non-GM farmers carrying an unjust burden of over $65 million a year.
NCF National Spokesperson Julie Newman said, "economic reports to date on GM crops have included benefits that are not relevent to farmers, excluded additional costs to farmers and ignored the reality that markets are rejecting GM crops. When these factors are integrated, there is a very different picture. The key problem is that non-GM farmers will be burdened with a heavy loss of over $65 million a year for the introduction of a crop we do not want and do not need. Furthermore, non-GM farmers will have little or no legal recourse against the GM industry for this economic loss caused."
"There is no intention to provide workable coexistence plans and all farmers will be expected to market as GM, a product markets do not want." said Mrs Newman. "The aim of the industries with a vested interest, is to try to convince farmers that GM is in our interests when it is not, and to portray that "industry" has self regulated and agreed to unworkable coexistence plans when this is completely false," she added.
"If introduced, Australia will be the first country to introduce large scale commercial release of a patented GM food crop without subsidising farmers to compensate for higher costs and associated market loss." said Mrs Newman. "This is about industries making money from farmers, not for farmers."
A US author and GM expert - Jeffrey Smith – has been visiting Australia outlining 65 possible risks to human and animal health posed by genetically modified organisms. He claims there is mounting evidence of allergic response to GM Foods. Ian Cohen, member of the NSW Legislative Council for the Greens said "We have an expert warning us today of danger to human health in the event that GM food crops are cleared for introduction in NSW next week. Jeffrey Smith argues that the rush to embrace GM foods has exposed everyone to serious health risks and that there has been very little independent testing on the possible impact on human health from eating GM food."
"The health impacts of GM are assessed by the Federal Gene Technology Regulator, but unfortunately the Federal Government is prioritising GM industry access to Australia over the health of our community. Listening to Ian Macdonald speak in Parliament you'd think there was no opposition to GM but you would be wrong - the nation's largest Australian-owned food company Goodman Fielder, lamb export giant Tatiara Meats, and Coles Supermarkets are calling on state governments to save our food from genetic engineering.
“Coles supermarkets said this week, 'Coles listens to our customers and over 90% do not want GE ingredients in their food and Coles whole private label range of 'Smart Buy', 'You'll Love Coles' and 'Coles Finest' exclude all GM ingredients in response to customer concerns.' Said Cohen. "Australia is in the very fortunate position of being free of GM food crops, with a reputation for clean green food produce – let's keep it that way,” he said.
A day before the recent Federal election Shadow Agriculture Minister Kerry O'Brien said in a letter to the Gene Ethics Network: "A Rudd Labor Government will develop comprehensive labelling for genetically modified food in Australia to provide an additional level of information for consumers." Gene Ethics Director Bob Phelps welcomed this move saying "If Labor delivers on this promise, it will be great news for food processors and shoppers. The community is now kept in the dark on whether there is GM content in everyday foods, as the Howard government exempts most GM products from labelling. Labor in government may also be more inclusive, and that's a good sign."
Scott Kinnear from the Biological Farmers of Australia told ABC radio "The markets have not opened up for our GM product internationally, in fact they appear to have tightened," he said. "The contamination in North America from the long grained rice scandal is estimated to cost the grains industry $1.2 billion, so why on earth would we want to go down this path?"
Even Giant Australian Food company Goodman Fielder has lobbied State Governments to continue the ban. CEO Peter Margin wrote in a letter to State Premiers "I strongly urge you to maintain the current state moratorium on genetically modified crops. Our products cover every meal and every day we deliver our products to around 30,000 supermarkets, convenience stores and food service customers through Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Goodman Fielder is of the view that, in a world of ever increasing globalisation, Australia's current status as a GM-free producer gives the company an essential international competitive advantage," he wrote.
The decision was announced by NSW Agroculture Minister Ian MacDonald in Sydney and Premier John Brumby in Melbourne today, November 27. Many Victorian state Labor MPs opposed the lifting of the moratorium in a caucus meeting last week and had requested public release of a report by Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, on the impact that lifting the ban would have on farmers and the state's food exports, but were rebuffed by the Premier.
Martin Foley, the new Labor member for Albert Park and a former chief-of-staff to former agriculture minister Bob Cameron said in a letter sent to the Victorian Premier and the panel chaired by Sir Gustav Nossal reported on in the Age: "I hold grave fears that the move towards lifting the current moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified canola — and possibly by extension other GM commercials — will disadvantage Victoria's relative position in regards to both its international export competitors and … our status as a trading partner,"
The Australian Consumers Association, in their 2005 submission to the Gene Technology Ministerial Council (PDF) on the REVIEW OF THE GENE TECHNOLOGY ACT said "Consumers are not demanding GM foods. They realise that it is not them who will benefit most from this technology. Genetic modification of food and food crops affords greater control over the food supply to a small number of large multinational biotechnology companies. It is these companies who stand to benefit most from GM foods by developing, patenting and selling the licences for their GM crops, not farmers and not consumers. While consumers acknowledge that there may be some benefits for them, such as improving taste and altering nutritional composition, they are not convinced that consumer benefit is the driving force behind genetic modification of food."