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Indybay Feature

Australia: Bans on Genetically Modified Crops lifted Despite Wide Opposition

by Takver - Sydney Indymedia
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."

Further Information:

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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Schiller Thurkettle
I'm not actually prepared to rely on someone who also claims that he levitates. And that levitation fights crime. Or does he wear a cloak and tights and fly around nabbing evildoers? I mean, come on!

Can't they find a better spokesman?
by David
Ms Newman's comments about subsidies are wrong. The Canadian canola industry is not subsidised, as shown by a recent OECD report. The Weekly Times in Victoria this has an article by Peter Hunt showing that Jeff Smith cannot be relied on for scientific accuracy. See http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2007/11/misleadind-and-innacurate-claims-by.html for more details.
by Mike Jones
Well, its about time that the weight of scientific evidence is listened to rather than a bunch of politically motivated scaremongerers. There are already more than 100 million hectares of GM crops grown worldwide, there have been many studies that confirm there are no new human health issues above those of normal crop breeding, and the potential environental benefits far outweigh the risks.

In 5 or 10 years time we will look back on all this fuss and wonder what it was all about - lets use GM technologies to tackle and help solve world problems, and there are enough of those - feeding 9 billion people each year by 2050, coping with climate change, contributing to biofuels to replace fossil fuels, increasing productivity on currently cropped land to help preserve biodoversity for future generations.

I applaud the decision made by the Victorian and NSW Governments for showing some leadership, instead of pandering to scaremongers.

Jeffrey Smith's main aim on his trip to Australia appears to be to sell more copies of his book....don't waste your money on it.
by Chris
The author of this article has managed to find just about all the people in Australia that oppose GM crops to cite - and needs to include a few overseas activists to make up numbers. The grains industry in Australia published Delivering Market Choice with GM canola with all the major farm organisations, representing all grain cropping farmers on mainland Australia, signing up. In addition, seed merchants and the grain handling industry have signed and the document has been endorsed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. The industry is ready for this development.
by Eric Baumholder
Takver's "Australia: Bans on Genetically Modified Crops lifted Despite Wide Opposition" is a marvel.

The "Network of Concerned Farmers" presumably represents Australian farmers--but this "Network" is only a few people. There are lots of actual farmers associations with large memberships, but Julie Newman is touted as a "National Spokesperson."

Suspiciously, her "Network" (which is also called an 'alliance') just doesn't have the perspective of real groups of actual farmers.

The cognoscenti are quite familiar with anti-GMO 'networks,' some of which consist of no more than one person. However, the Gene Ethics Network may have as many as twelve persons.

Then there's Scott Kinnear, from the Biological Farmers of Australia. The title of his group (network, alliance, whatever) suggests that other farmers are not biological. Even the baddest Klingons are alleged to be biological. Triffids, too. What's up with that?

The anti-GMO claims would hardly be complete without a statement by the "Australian Consumers Association." I guess Australian consumers are so disenfranchised that they can't vote.

This motley crew needs some imported credentials, obviously. Whom do they get? "US author and GM expert - Jeffrey Smith." I'd say that Smith is with the flying-saucer crowd, but that would be exaggerating. He claims the ability to fly on his own!

It's great that the Australian Greens have a Caped Crusader on their side. This will surely draw a croud of the most credulous, and convey certain messages about the 'Greens Down Under'.

The world looks on with amusement at these frantic antics.

Eric.
by Takver - Sydney Indymedia
You left out a few Eric,

The Australian Food industry, both for retail consumption and export, is concerned over cross-contamination by GM crops with wide consumer resistance to consuming food from genetically modified crops.

Coles, one of Australia's largest food and grocery retailers with 35 percent market share, has come out in opposition to GM ingredients based upon overwhelming consumer sentiment against products with GM ingredients. Read Coles statement on GM foods.

Max Ould from Goodman Fielder Limited in his 2007 AGM address on November 22 said "We recently wrote to all governments in Australia, urging a continuation of the moratorium as we believe that our consumers are increasingly concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the possible long term effects of consuming genetically modified material. It is our experience that most consumers prefer foods that are not genetically modified and the company is working to eliminate raw materials that are genetically modified from our retail branded products, wherever this is technically possible." Goodman Fielder is Australasia’s leading listed food company, delivering to 30,000 outlets every day. It is the largest supplier of edible fats and oils to food manufacturers and wholesalers in Australia and New Zealand.

Tatiara Meats is Australia's largest lamb exporter, with clients in France, Germany and the United States. Managing director, Eckard Huebl, said in the long term his business will suffer from the decision to lift the ban on GM. "I do believe, I am concerned, that we will indeed see a decline in the value of our product we send overseas, simply because we lose that status of all-natural product."

"I think we have this unique chance to have a whole country which is clean and natural, and GM-free, and I think we'd be, economically I think Australia, personally I believe Australia will be much better off to market all its food produce overseas and domestic for that matter, as a natural, clean GM-free product, rather than give in to a couple of multinationals trying to entice a small group of farmers." he said on the PM current affairs ABC radio program

Also interviewed was Don Lazzaro managing director of Pure Harvest, Australia's largest producer of natural foods who said "Certainly it will affect our business. All our customers don't want GM product in the food chain. Large companies like Goodman Fielder have said they don't want it. Coles Myer have stated that they don't want it in their brands. We co-pack for Coles Myer, and certainly it will affect our business."

"So what this means is there won't be any choice for farmers that don't want to grow GM, because I don't believe that there are enough procedures and structural barriers in place to stop cross-contamination. So if you don't want to have GM food, you've basically, what this will mean is that you won't have that choice. At the moment the average consumer has no choice when it comes to GM. There's no labelling to identify that the product is GM." he said.

Andrew Youngberry from Eden Farms, a large direct supplier to Woolworths supermarket chain, said on the ABC TV Landline program "I think that GM technology is probably too dangerous for us to be releasing onto the open market. The problem is that there's no going back ... from once you let it in, there's no going back. And it's ... again, I'm afraid we might be opening a Pandora's box."

You are correct in that many of the peak farm organisations such as Victorian Farmers Federation, Australian Grains Council and Australian Dairy Council supported the decision to lift the ban.

The Biological Farmers of Australia is a peak organisation representing organic farmers in Australia. Whether you agree with them or not, their concerns over contamination of non GM crops whether organic or non-organic should be taken seriously. Organics is a growing segment of the agricultural sector driven by consumer demand.

As to your attempt to ridicule the size of the opposition to GM crops. Its laughable. The Gene Ethics Network and Greenpeace's Truefoods Network have quite a bit of consumer support, whether you like it or not. According to Greenpeace recent polls show that only 27.6% of Australian farmers want to grow GE grain crops and the majority of Australian consumers don’t want to eat them.

Labelling laws here in Australia are a Federal responsibility, but legislation requiring the labelling of food containing GM ingredients has been sadly lacking. Consumers have not been given any choice, or the freedom to choose GM free foods. Victorian Premier Brumby said when lifting the ban that eating GM foods was a matter of consumer choice but also acknowledged not all GM products would be labelled. According to the Gene Ethics Network of the 32 GM products approved for sale in Australia only soy containing oleic acid had to be labelled. (The Age Nov 28 - Brumby trips up on GM debate) So much for freedom of choice for consumers.

I'm chuffed this article has drawn so many comments - I've obviously found a raw nerve.

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