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7-Business: GE concerns amongst Australian farmers grow

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Questions cloud GM 'profits'
SOURCE: The Land, Australia, by Matthew Cawood
DATE:   July 4, 2002

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Questions cloud GM 'profits'

MORE Australian farmers are questioning the economic advantages of growing 
genetically modified (GM) canola, quite apart from unanswered questions 
about the technology's safety. The number of farmers who openly question 
the economics of GM canola remains small, but they say they represent 
others silent because of the lack of an organised resistance to the new 
technology. However, networks of concerned farmers have been formed now in 
NSW, Victoria and Western Australia - where there is talk of using the 
western State's isolation to create a GM-free zone.

Molong farmer, Arthur Bowman, "Arrowbinia", and Young farmers, Donald and 
Juliet McFarlane, "Stumpjump", are co-ordinators of a NSW network seeking a 
four-year moratorium on GM releases. The network helped organise talks in 
NSW this week by anti-GM North American farmers, in the hope that the 
discussion will galvanise others into open protest. "We really need at 
least 50 per cent of canola growers to get together and speak up," Mr 
Bowman said. "The challenge is in finding some way in which farmers who 
don't take the broad position adopted by NSW Farmers and the NFF can get 
their point across. How do we speak at federal level if we don't speak as a 

The farmers and their counterparts in other States question the wisdom of 
potentially wiping out Australia's GM-free status, and with it a possible 
market advantage. They also want more information on the feasibility and 
cost of segregation, who will meet the cost of identity preservation, and 
what effect a glyphosate-reliant crop might potentially have on herbicide 
resistance in weeds. Mrs McFarlane said calculations by herself and her 
husband on growing GM canola suggested they would be $25-$37 a hectare 
worse off.

But such concerns will play no part in the decision by Dr Sue Meek, the 
gene technology regulator, on whether Monsanto's application for more GM 
trials will be approved. "If farmers want to comment (on Monsanto's 
application) because they are concerned about gene flow which would make 
their canola less marketable, Dr Meek can't take any notice," said Office 
of the Gene Technology Regulator spokeswoman, Kay McNeice. "The Act is all 
about human health and safety, and safety of the environment. Dr Meek can't 
decide on a farmer's concern about marketability of their product. There 
may be buffer zones, but they may not satisfy the commercial concerns of 
farmers as it's not in her brief."

The protesting farmers believe Australia's present GM-free status may give 
it future leverage in markets like Europe, which now accepts only GM-free 
products. All countries within the EU, and several outside it - including 
Australia - have laws requiring mandatory labelling of foods containing GM 
products. China last week became the latest country to legislate on GM 

But GrainCorp oilseeds trader, Cameron Pratt, said Australia had not been 
able to identify a consistent premium for GM-free canola, despite it being 
mandatory for the EU market and desirable for Japan. Canola is unusual 
among GM crops in that when processed, it is sold to consumers as oil, 
which does not contain DNA protein.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GM debate takes on buffer zones
SOURCE: Stock Journal, Australia, by Anna Merola
DATE:   July 4, 2002

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GM debate takes on buffer zones

AUSTRALIA'S ORGANIC export markets could be placed at risk if buffer zones 
between genetically modified and traditional crops are removed. The warning 
from the Biological Farmers of Australia, a representative group for the 
industry, came in response to world first research conducted by the Co-
operative Research Centre for Weed Management, which found that buffer 
zones were unnecessary. "We would never dispute scientific research but 
what we would dispute is that buffer zones aren't necessary," BFA chief 
executive Andrew Monk said.

Leader of the Adelaide-based research team Mary Rieger said the study 
conducted in 2000-01, using Clearfield canola, involved collecting more 
than 48 million seeds from 63 fields across southern Australia. The team of 
researchers, which included CRC's Dr Chris Preston, Associate Professor 
Rick Roush and Professor Stephen Powles measured the pollen flow from 
fields of canola genes for herbicide resistance to other nearby canola 
crops. "These results have major implications for GM crops since the pollen 
spreads exactly the same way, mostly by wind or insects," Dr Rieger said.

However, she said the amounts were so small that it would be almost 
impossible to detect the gene flow using current DNA assessment methods. 
"Samples were taken from locations as close as the next field and ranging 
up to five kilometers away, and the furthest distance we detected any 
pollen was 2.6km away," Dr Rieger said. "It was found that on average only 
nine seeds in 100,000 carried the new gene. The very highest occurrence 
found was seven seeds in 10,000, but this is far below internationally 
recognised levels for unwanted gene transfer."

Parallel studies were undertaken in WA by University of WA's Michael Lamond 
and CRC Professor Steve Powles, with the same general results. Dr Rieger 
said the findings were globally significant to the current GMO debate, as 
the European Union and the Australian government currently accept 1pc as 
the practical limit for detection of GM ingredients in foodstuffs.

"Crops can still be classified as non-GM, even if there is 1pc GM in the 
crop, and at the moment, farmers can expect to have not even that much," Dr 
Rieger said. "A key implication of this finding is that non-GM Australian 
canola is not in any danger of being excluded from markets on the basis of 
containing unwanted genes."

Mr Monk says the BFA is calling for buffer zones to be maintained, to 
ensure organic export markets are not lost. "We've been well aware of the 
overall risk, and talk about a few hundred metres for a buffer zone is 
ludicrous," he said. "This needs to be extended to 3km, as at least that 
lowers the risk (of contamination). And we've already had markets like the 
UK, requesting specifically that we confirm that our farmers exporting 
grain have a minimum 3km buffer zone to the nearest GM crop."

Dr Rieger encouraged organic farmers to raise the GM tolerance level from 
zero, which she said was "unrealistic", to at least 0.1pc. "We have to have 
a testable limit for GM contamination, but there is going to be some sort 
of pollination," she said.


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