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6-Regulation: Australia approves GE canola, but States block it

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TITLE:  Federal Gov't Okays GE Canola, But States Block It
SOURCE: Inter Press Service, by Bob Burton
DATE:   Jul 25, 2003

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Federal Gov't Okays GE Canola, But States Block It

CANBERRA, Jul 25 (IPS) - Despite the go-ahead given by the Australian
government for the commercial release of genetically engineered canola,
intense opposition from farming and environmental groups has prompted
most state governments to impose a moratorium on its planting.

On Friday morning, the director of the Office of the Gene Technology
Regulator (OGTR), Dr Sue Meek, announced that the application by Bayer
Crop Science for the commercial release of its genetically modified (GM)
canola Invigor had been approved.

Announcing the decision, Meek said that her ''vigorous independent
assessment of health safety and environmental impacts found Invigor as
safe to humans and the environment as conventional (non-GM) canola''.

However, the absence of peer-reviewed studies on the health and
environmental impacts of GM canola should have been sufficient to cause
Meeks to reject the application, argues Jeremy Tager, a campaigner for
Greenpeace Australia on genetic engineering. ''It is hard to say there is
enough evidence to provide the basis for any decision,'' he said.

Under the provisions of the gene technology bill 2001, the Commonwealth
Gene Technology Regulator has the responsibility for determining the
environmental and health risks of applications. If this is approved, the
states then have control over the whether and where genetically
engineered organisms can be used.

In the last six months, governments in South Australia, Victoria, Western
Australia and New South Wales have all announced moratoria - albeit with
varying degrees of strictness - on the commercial release of canola.

Queensland is the only state not to have announced a moratorium, but
Bayer's GM canola is not appropriate for its climate. All the other
states are demanding answers on critical issues such as the segregation
of GM crops from non-GM crops and liability for any contamination of non-
GM crops that happens.

Driving the state governments' change in policy is opposition to GM
canola by farming interests including the Australian Wheat Board, the
Australian Barley Board, Pulse Australia and even the grower of
genetically engineered cotton, the Tynams Agricultural Group.

Their opposition reflects the insistence by customers that their grain
meet strict standards. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest importer of
barley, has indicated that it may refuse to trade barley with Australia
if it produces any commercial genetically engineered grain crop.

In May, the executive manager for corporate relations of the Australian
Bulk Handling Association, David Thomas, told the South Australian
parliamentary select committee on genetically modified organisms that it
was impossible to meet the Australian Wheat Board's request for zero
tolerance of GM contamination.

The Australian Wheat Board (AWB), a commercial marketing agency, sells
approximately 3.3 billion U.S. dollars of wheat in a good year.

''There is no way that we could guarantee absolutely a nil tolerance if
GM crops are widely grown and we create separate supply chains within our
system, no matter how good our systems are,'' Thomas told the committee.

Marcus Kennedy, the group general manager, financial and rural services
of the AWB, told the South Australian inquiry that there was little
market demand for genetically engineered products.

''Broadly, our customers at this stage do not want GM. One-third, and an
increasing number, of international customers require GM-free
certification. It is one-third in number but over 50 percent in volume of
our exports at the moment,'' he said.

While the OGTR is optimistic about the compatibility of GM and non-GM,
two state parliamentary inquiry reports released in the last two weeks
have challenged the practicality of this co-existence.

The South Australian parliamentary committee report released in mid-July
recommended that GM crops only be approved when co-existence between GM
free, non-GM and GM, ''can be guaranteed by industry through the
establishment of rigorous and cost effective segregation and identity
preservation systems throughout the total production and supply chain''.

The Western Australian Parliament's Environment and Public Affairs
Committee released an even more damning report into the prospects of GM
crops just a few days after their South Australian counterpart.

Based on the information presented repeatedly during its meetings in
Canada and the United States, that contamination of non-GM crops by GM
crops is inevitable, the committee stated in its final report that
''segregation is not practical and that identity preservation can be
achieved, but at significant cost''.

The committee recommended that the current moratorium on GM crops in the
state should continue until at least 2006 and warned that GM crops could
damage the standing of all agriculture in the state.

''The commercialisation of a single GM grain crop may tarnish Western
Australia's overall reputation of being a clean and green non-GM producer
and thus have implications for the marketability of other (Western
Australian) agricultural products,'' they wrote.

Tager argues that where state governments previously viewed support for
GM crops as being compatible with maintaining access to non-GM markets,
they are now realising that they may have to choose between the two. ''It
is now absolutely clear to state governments that the option of 'we can
have the best of both worlds' is not to be,'' he said.

Tager remains optimistic that even the staunchly pro-GM Commonwealth
Government will be forced by the growing nervousness among the
traditionally conservative farming community to change its stand.

''They must be realising now that they are not going to get the best of
both worlds anytime soon, and certainly not simply. I suspect you might
begin to hear a slightly different tune from them soon,'' Tager said.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

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