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2-Plants: Farmer division over GM crops grows in Australia

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TITLE:  Fed: Farmer division over GM crops grows
SOURCE: Australian Associated Press
DATE:   Mar 27, 2003

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Fed: Farmer division over GM crops grows

CANBERRA, March 27 AAP - Divisions among farmers over genetically-
modified crops intensified today as supporters of the new technology
embarked on a promotion campaign. Agrifood Awareness Australia, which
represents organisations including the National Farmers' Federation,
brought out a Canadian grower of GM canola to speak to farmers about the
merits of the technology and its benefits to producers. But a survey
among southern NSW canola farmers found unanimous opposition to GM crops,
with many arguing there was still too much doubt for them to be allowed
for general use. The debate is heating up ahead of a decision by the GM
watchdog on the general release of two varieties of genetically-altered
canola. Only two GM crops - carnations and cotton - are grown
commercially in Australia, and the GM canola would become the first
genetically-altered food crop grown in the country. 

Canadian farmer Bruce Dalgarno, who addressed farmers in central NSW,
said in his case there had been huge benefits from GM canola. He said
farmers there had been able to boost crop yields, cut pesticide use and
boost their incomes through the new technology. "GM canola varieties
provide growers with better weed control options and more control over
production costs because GM canola requires fewer herbicide
applications," he said. But it appears the problems encountered in Canada
about GM crops have contributed to unease about the technology in Australia.

The Shepherds Producers Cooperative, based in the southern NSW city of
Wagga Wagga, surveyed almost half of its 300 members about GM crops.
Those who responded unanimously opposed GM crops, with many fearful that
once they were introduced farmers would have no choice about future
crops. Cooperative chief executive Scott Bradley said the organisation's
members, who are expected to produce 20 per cent of NSW's canola crop
this year, were yet to be convinced of GM's merits. "We're open to the
idea of biotechnology and GM, but we have to see the results and at this
stage it just isn't there," he told AAP.

A major concern is the rules set out by the nation's gene technology
agriculture committee, which require just a five metre buffer between GM
and non-GM crops. Mr Bradley said farmers did not accept such a buffer
was large enough. Meanwhile, a report by the Bureau of Rural Sciences,
released today, failed to give full support to either side of the GM
debate. The bureau's executive director, Peter O'Brien, said it was clear
farmers needed more information about GM crops.

The report found there could be major environmental and economic benefits
from GM technology, especially as farmers would cut their use of
potentially dangerous pesticides. But it also warned that crops altered
to make them resistant to poisons could also mix with weeds, leading to
huge problems for farmers. "If not managed effectively, GM herbicide-
tolerant crops could add to herbicide-resistant weed problems," it said.