GENET archive


GMO-FREE REGIONS & POLICY: GMO moratoria in Australia: Critical voices on the pro-GMO campaign

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Eureka Street Magazine, Australia

AUTHOR: Charles Rue


DATE:   23.08.2007

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Dr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and co-ordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation).

Most Australian states have started reviews of their 2004 GM Acts which carry a de facto moratorium on growing genetically modified (GM) crops. The pro-GM lobby has responded with an orchestrated campaign.

Liberal insider Guy Pearce’s website, High and Dry, tells how the Howard government’s climate change policies became captive to the ”greenhouse mafia” because of an ideology of neo-liberal economics. A ’GM mafia’ has captured the Federal political scene and is pressuring State GM Reviews.

”In the absence of consumer take-up of its products, selling stocks has become a biotech industry lifeline”, stated The Wall Street Journal in 2004. In ’Biotech’s dismal bottom line: More than $40 billion in losses’, it spelt out the immediate GM agenda.

Australian State governments been caught up in a religious type rapture over biotech promises of silver bullets. They have become naďve investors seemingly unaware of biotech economic strategies. Industry lobbyists such the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and its PR arm the Australian Environment Foundation have egged them on.

More importantly, big long-term profits for biotech companies will come through monopoly control of the food industry.

To achieve this, government mechanisms have been white-anted. In Australia, it means implementing the biotech led Trade Related Intellectual Properties (TRIPs) Agreement of the WTO and manipulating both the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food and Safety Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Australia has implemented patenting laws that benefit GM seed companies. These are reinforced by the US-Aus Free Trade Agreement. (Pharmaceuticals are under the same threat). Farmers will be forced to buy GM patented seed and consumers will have no choice but to buy GM food in a monopoly system. The TRIPs office within DFAT has proved reluctant to reveal who forms Australian policy on patenting at WTO meetings.

The next step is to have federal bureaucracies help implement biotech monopoly of the food chain. The OGTR was set up to guarantee health and environmental standards but is headed by Dr Sue Meek who formerly promoted biotech based industries. The OGTR has approved GM crops without regard for the ’precautionary principle’. This lack of caution is evidenced by the GM contamination of Australian canola seed.

GM contamination of the crops of conventional breeders and organic growers suits the long-term economic goals of the biotech companies; to undermine economic rivals. The OGTR is only restrained by State GM Acts of 2004 which have shown at least some concern for the economics of farmers about issues such as seed separation. That is why the State Reviews are under attack.

An aspect deserving attention is the negative effects of GM plants on the genetics of the natural environment. In economic terms it is a mere externality. However, for wheat and other food crops, cross pollination means GM contamination of genetic riches. It will grow worse as Roundup-Ready (gluphosate) crops become ineffective and replaced by Agent Orange related Dicamba-Ready GM crops.

The OGTR does no independent testing about health or environmental impacts. It relies on what the biotech companies tell them. Independent testing by the iconic CSIRO has all but stopped as it has been forced to form profit-oriented commercial partnership with biotech companies. These are bound by confidentiality clauses.

FSANZ, like OGTR, does no independent testing yet controls the approval of foods for consumption and food labelling. Food ingredients under one per cent GM go unlabelled. Even the report of Minister McGauran prepared by ACIL Tasman says that ’consumers in some countries are not aware they are purchasing and consuming products containing GM foods. It is of note that co-founder of ACIL Tasman, David Trebeck, is on the board of Graincorp.

Information presented in the media has been deliberately limited or given as spin. The reports of Jason Koutsoukis are examples of creating the impression that lifting GM moratoriums is a done deal and consumers are for it. When reporting on a survey on customer attitudes to GM by Biotechnology Australia his article did not explain that key survey questions were prefaced with ’What if?’ caveats supposing evidence about health safety and benefits.

The Catholic Church in India is responding to the alarming number of suicides among farmers, many because of failed GM cotton crops. It would be good to see Catholic moralists and ethical institutes in Australia venture out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. Morality is about care for God’s gift of life in every form. It means addressing what the alliance of the ’GM-mafia’ and neo-liberal economics is doing.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: The Age, Australia

AUTHOR: Opinion, by Gyorgy Scrinis


DATE:   17.08.2007

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Dr Gyorgy Scrinis is a research associate in the Globalism Institute at RMIT University.

A NEW report prepared for the Federal Government on genetically modified canola crops is being used to support the lifting of state bans on growing commercial GM canola. Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran says this report confirms that GM canola would offer significant economic and agronomic benefits for Australian farmers.

Yet the report contains no new revelations, and even acknowledges the possible market advantages of remaining GM-free and the continued strong public opposition to GM food.

The introduction of moratoriums in most states that began in 2003 were largely based on economic and trade considerations, with farmers, farmers’ organisations, processors and food marketers concerned about the loss of overseas markets and the loss of the price premiums being received for non-GM canola crops.

The report acknowledges that there may still be price premiums and greater market opportunities for non-GM crops. The European Union has maintained its ban on the importing of GM canola seeds, and many food companies prefer non-GM canola for human consumption because of consumer rejection of GM foods. Of the 20 canola-producing countries, only Canada and the United States grow GM crops and this amounts to just 17 per cent of global canola production.

One problem with growing GM canola is that the engineered genes quickly contaminate the fields of non-GM canola, as has happened in Canada and the US. So many conventional non-GM farmers as well as organic farmers oppose the introduction of GM canola and other crops.

In 2003, the decision to impose state bans on GM canola was made in the context of strong and continuing public opposition to GM foods, with surveys around the world confirming that most citizens do not want to eat GM foods.

The varieties of GM canola licensed to be commercially grown if the bans are lifted are herbicide-tolerant varieties. Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company, owns the Roundup-tolerant varieties

and Bayer, the world’s biggest agri-chemical, company owns the Basta-tolerant ones.

These GM crops are engineered to survive being sprayed with chemical weedkillers that would otherwise kill the crop itself. Herbicide-tolerant crops are thereby being used to expand the range of situations in which, and the doses of, chemical herbicides that can be applied.

As weeds related to canola — radish, turnip and charlock — also become resistant to the herbicides, other even more toxic chemicals will be used. GM crops offer, at best, a Band-Aid solution to weed-management problems or other agro-ecological crises facing chemical-industrial farmers.

Aside from some narrow and questionable economic and agronomic benefits, the bigger question is what else we are committing to when we open the door to GM canola and other food crops.

First, there are new health and ecological risks. The genetic modification of plants to introduce new agronomic traits may also induce other changes in the plant and the ultimate food product. Few independent studies have been conducted into the safety of GM foods, yet our food regulators continue to approve these foods for environmental release and human consumption largely based on data supplied by the companies that own these GM seeds. GM crops also introduce an entirely new form of pollution into the environment: genetic pollution.

Second, GM crops enable the continuation and extension of chemical-industrial agricultural practices, and may exacerbate some of the existing ecological problems associated with them. For example, GM crops introduce a higher level of uniformity into food crops, and accelerate the erosion of seed diversity and other forms of biodiversity.

Genetic engineering is essentially a tool for finetuning chemical-industrial agriculture, rather than offering ecologically sustainable alternatives to it, and further locks farmers into this system of production.

Third, genetic engineering is allowing the further concentration in corporate ownership and control of the agri-food system. GM seeds are patented and controlled by a handful of global corporations. These corporations not only own the seeds, but also the chemical inputs that these seeds require to perform as intended. Farmers must pay ”technology fees” on top of the price of the seeds, and are also asked to sign contracts that stipulate how these seeds are to be used. GM technology brings the total control of the global food supply within reach of this handful of global corporations.

To accept the introduction of GM crops is to allow what will amount to a significant shift in the structures and practices of agricultural production. I refer to this in terms of a broader shift from a chemical-industrial to a genetic-corporate system of agri-food production. The development of new nanotechnologies for agri-food production — such as nano-chemical pesticides — is likely to reinforce these agro-ecological and socio-economic trends.

Opposing GM crops and maintaining the state bans on GM canola is a way of resisting the genetic-corporate and nano-corporate takeover of the global agri-food system, and of maintaining a space in which alternative, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable ways of producing and sharing seeds, crops and foods may flourish.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia



DATE:   30.07.2007

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As South Australia considers possible changes to a ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, a group opposed to the genetic modification of crops has accused the Federal Government of misleading the public.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane used the results of a survey by Biotechnology Australia to announce that Australians have changed their attitude to GM technology.

But Bob Phelps from Gene Ethics says the survey deliberately asked the wrong questions, and suggested GM technology could fix environmental problems.

He says the current gene technology will mean big increases in the use of broad spectrum herbicides, increasing the level of chemicals in food.

”At some time in the future they would like crops that were going to be drought-tolerant, salt-tolerant and would give other environmental benefits as these don’t exist and will not exist for the next decade, the questions really push poll people into believing that genetically manipulated crops can do a lot more than they actually can do,” he said.

Mr Macfarlane says the survey in question marks a significant change in public attitudes to GM crops and coincides with an increased confidence in science across society.

It has found public support for GM crops has risen to 73 per cent this year, compared to 46 per cent in 2005.

When asked if GM crops should be grown in their state, half the respondents from all states said yes.

A further 30 per cent approved, as long as the crops were strongly regulated.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia



DATE:   10.08.2007

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As debate about genetically modified (GM) crops intensifies, a key anti-GM group has hit back at claims that farmers will benefit from their introduction. The Food Science Futures Foundation yesterday said about 70 per cent of the general community now accepts GM crops, which can give environmental benefits such as reducing the need for farmers to use nitrogen. But the director of Gene Ethics, Bob Phelps, says pro-GM companies have spent 20 years trying to improve nitrogen fixation and it is unlikely to be achieved soon. He says the latest moves are part of a US-based push to get herbicide tolerant canola on the market. ”Shoppers don’t want gene manipulated foods ... they certainly don’t want more spraying of toxic chemicals in our environment,” he said. ”For the last two years Australian canola growers have been getting premiums in overseas markets of up to $120 per tonne and that’s why the companies that are US-based are now trying to roll over the bans.”

                                  PART 5

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SOURCE: Biotechnology Australia, Australia

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   07.08.2007

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Accusations of push-polling in a survey of public attitudes towards biotechnology, conducted by an independent research company for the Australian Government agency Biotechnology Australia are unfounded and unjustified.

Responding to criticisms of the survey by anti-biotechnology activist groups, including Greenpeace and the GeneEthics Network, the Manager of Public Awareness for Biotechnology Australia, Mr Craig Cormick, said: ”These accusations seem hypocritical when you consider the fact that the groups were involved in the round table with industry groups and researchers that workshopped the questions for the survey, and they were happy with the questions when they were developed.

”However, now that the survey has found a large change of public attitudes in favour of gene technology and biotechnology they have suddenly decided they are unhappy with the survey.

”Interestingly, two years ago, when the last similar survey was done, industry groups criticised the survey because it found that the public had many concerns about gene technology,” he said.

”The fact is, the survey is statistically valid, is well regarded internationally, and many academic papers have been published based on the findings revealed by these biennial surveys of community attitudes to biotechnology. They are conducted by a highly-reputable independent research company, Eureka Strategic Research.

”The NGO criticism is misleading in calling the study push-polling, as this is when a survey is conducted with a hidden objective to disseminate information, rather than collecting opinions. This study is clearly not push-polling as it has used questions identical to those used in the past, it explored the public’s view of both risks and benefits of GM and was carefully balanced. The same questions have been used deliberately so that we can track changes in public attitudes over time.

”The NGOs who are taking issue with the survey are really taking issue with the Australian public, as it is their change of attitude towards biotechnology that is causing the NGOs most concern.”

The full study, and the questions used in the survey, are available from Biotechnology Australia’s website:



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