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6-Regulation: Australian GM ruling sparks fears

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  GM ruling sparks fears
SOURCE: The Age, Australia, by Melissa Marino
DATE:   Jan 5, 2003

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GM ruling sparks fears

Conservationists and farmers say new rules for growing genetically modified 
canola in Australia are inadequate and will lead to contamination of 
organic produce.

The guidelines call for a five-metre buffer zone between GM and non-GM 
canola crops. But opponents say that is not enough to prevent contamination.

They are also concerned non-GM farmers will have to pay the costs of 
segregating crops, resulting in higher prices for non-GM foods.

The rules were released by the Gene Technology Grains Committee just before 

Chairman Bob Watters has accused dissenters of running a fear campaign. He 
said the guidelines would give farmers the choice to take up new technology 
and grow GM crops while protecting non-GM interests.

The Canola Industry Stewardship Protocols provide the basis for industry 
self-regulation of commercial GM canola crops.

Commonwealth Gene Technology Regulator Sue Meek had been waiting for the 
guidelines before deciding whether to approve two applications for the 
commercial release of GM canola.

Two multinational companies, Monsanto and Bayer, have applications before 
Dr Meek to supply herbicide-resistant GM canola seeds to Australian 
farmers. If approved, crops could be growing by April.

Scott Kinnear, a spokesman for Biological Farmers of Australia, which 
certifies organic crops, said the protocols were supposed to ensure GM and 
other crops could co-exist. But, he said, the five-metre buffer zone 
required by the guidelines was ludicrous.

Mr Kinnear said organic crops must have no detectable GM residue to be 
classified GM-free, but the guidelines were based on keeping contamination 
below 1 per cent. He said 16-kilometre buffer zones would be more 
realistic, as well as strict penalties for breaching the regulations.

Mr Watters said he was confident the five-metre buffer would limit 
contamination of non-GM crops to a commercially acceptable standard.

But Greenpeace GM campaigner John Hepburn said canola plants could be 
contaminated from a distance of 2.6 kilometres. This translated to the 
contamination of more than half a million seeds in one season.

"Our point is that contamination will increase exponentially over time," he 
said. "You might be able to keep contamination low in the first year and 
maybe in the second year, but come year three, four or five it will be 

Mr Hepburn said non-GM farmers would face rising costs to keep their canola 

"What has happened in other countries, and what we're fearing will happen 
here, is that it will be the normal growers that foot the bill for the 
introduction of GM crops," he said.

Mr Hepburn said serious environmental, health and economic implications 
were possible if GM crops were allowed to be grown commercially in 

But David Vaux, a head scientist at Melbourne's Walter and Eliza Hall 
Institute of Medical Research, said GM crops were being vilified and trials 
should be allowed.

"There is a fear of technology and a fear of anything . . . that comes from 
people wearing white coats and I can't work out what the reason is behind 
it," he said.

"You can never prove that something is going to be bad in 100 years unless 
you do trials for 100 years. You've got to use common sense."


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