GENET archive


GMO-FREE REGIONS & PRODUCTS: Debate in Victoria (Australia)continues

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Now for the hard sell on modified foods
SOURCE: The Age, Australia
AUTHOR: William Birnbauer
DATE:   20.05.2007

Now for the hard sell on modified foods

THREE years ago Labor backbencher Luke Donnellan voted for a four-year
ban on genetically modified crops in Victoria. Last week Mr Donnellan
invited his Labor colleagues to attend a pro-GM meeting at Parliament
House sponsored by the Institute of Public Affairs, an outfit not highly
regarded in Labor circles.

With the State Government's ban on genetically modified canola expiring
in February, supporters and opponents are beginning their lobbying
campaigns. The outcome will depend on whether Labor has shifted ground
on the controversial technology.

ALP insiders say that senior ministers, especially Treasurer John Brumby
and Premier Steve Bracks, regard the ban as running counter to the aim
of making Victoria an international hub for biotechnology. "They
wouldn't be in Boston (for Bio 2007) saying, 'We're going to extend the
moratorium', would they?" asks one Labor MP.

Mr Donnellan told The Sunday Age he was generally supportive of
genetically modified food. In his email invitation to MPs, he said: "I
believe the technology has the potential to assist us to deal with food
and water shortages both here and overseas."

Mr Donnellan was one of three MPs -- the others are from the Liberal and
National parties -- who were enlisted by the Institute of Public Affairs
to invite guests to hear pro-GM speakers over drinks and finger food in
the Legislative Council committee room.

The Labor Party is split over whether to continue the moratorium and is
headed for a potentially divisive debate. Already, Tammy Lobato, MP for
Gembrook, is gearing up a big campaign. "I urge the people of Victoria
to participate in this public debate and consider the evidence," she
said. "Going down the GM road is an irreversible path and Victorians
need to assess whether this is the right way to go for our farmers, our
communities, our environment and our health." She did not believe it was.

One clue to the Government's attitude is the language it uses in its
press releases. In 2004, the former agriculture minister Bob Cameron
said the commercial release of GM canola "would represent a point of no
return for Victoria. The Government believes the risks to export markets
outweighs any perceived benefits at this time."

Last week, Agriculture Minister Joe Helper was not convinced about the
risk to exports. "In Victoria, the focus will be on what impact the use
of this technology would have on our trade markets if the moratorium was
lifted," he said.

The institute expects 50 to 70 MPs to attend the meeting. They will hear
from Rick Roush, the dean of land and food resources at Melbourne
University, Jennifer Marohasy, an IPA fellow, and Chris Kelly, a Mallee
grain grower.

The meeting follows a front-page report in The Sunday Age last week that
the State Government is set to lift its ban on GM crops. The report
prompted a large number of letters from readers opposed to GM foods.

Anti-GM campaigners such as Bob Phelps from Gene Ethics and Julie Newman
from the Network of Concerned Farmers, are firing their first shots in
the new debate. They claim that biotechnology giants Monsanto, Bayer
CropScience and Nufarm are funding pro-GM farm lobby groups and the IPA.

The Sunday Age has confirmed that the institute receives total funding
of about $1.5 million a year, of which $4000 comes from the global
agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto.

Mr Kelly, who is to address Tuesday's seminar, is the Victorian convener
of the pro-GM Producers Forum and a director of the Birchip Cropping
Group. The group's internet site lists its diamond sponsors as including
Bayer CropScience and crop protection company Nufarm Limited.

Bayer CropScience in 2003 won approval from the federal Gene Technology
Regulator for the commercial release of herbicide-tolerant InVigor
hybrid canola in Australia. Last September, Nufarm paid Monsanto $10
million for the licence to Roundup Ready canola, which also has been
approved by the gene regulator.

The biotechnology giants spent tens of millions of dollars developing
these seeds. Moratoriums by state governments halted release of both
manipulated canola varieties.

In 2003, Professor Roush and his scientific collaborators received
$20,000 from Bayer and Monsanto for research into canola pollen. He said
it was the only funding he had received from those companies in 30 years
of research.

Julie Newman, of the anti-GM Network of Concerned Farmers, points at a
group called Agrifood Awareness, which she said was the main policy
adviser for farm groups lobbying in favour of genetically manipulated crops.

She claimed the Grains Research and Development Corporation, which
imposes a levy of 1 per cent of gross sales on farmers, contributed
$100,000 a year to Agrifood Awareness. She said the levy was supposed to
pay for grain research.

Agrifood Awareness executive director Paula Fitzgerald said the money
was also used for workshops in gene technology run with the CSIRO.

Ms Fitzgerald said moratoriums in Victoria and elsewhere had led to
international companies doing less research here, especially on grains.
She said the bans signalled there was no path for the commercialisation
of GM products here.

The State Government is expected to announce details of its moratorium
review soon. The Agriculture Minister, Mr Helper, said the review would
be limited to the potential impact on trade.

Professor Roush said that when the ban was imposed in 2004 there were
concerns that Japan or European countries would not buy genetically
modified canola or crops from Australia. These had proved to be invalid,
he said. "A lot of the concerns people had a few years ago have passed
us by and Australia has been passed by as other places are using the
technology," Professor Roush said.

In 2003, the Victorian Government commissioned Professor Peter Lloyd to
assess market risks to trade if Victoria planted GM canola. He found no
evidence that the US or Canada had lost market share because of their
canola GM exports, or that consumers were willing to pay a premium for
non-GM foods.

Professor Lloyd recommended limited release of GM canola varieties in a
trial for coexistence with non-GM crops. The Government rejected the
report and imposed a four-year ban on GM canola.

Meanwhile, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria will begin a series of
forums tomorrow in Cohuna and Shepparton before a policy debate on the
issue next month.

The June annual meeting will consider a "pro choice" policy that says it
is up to farmers to decide if they want to use GM crops. Also up for
discussion are separate motions for and against the continuation of the

Geoffrey Carracher, 66, Minimay, west of Horsham

GEOFF CARRACHER is already wary of how genetically modified produce can
get into the food chain.

In 2005, the fourth-generation grain farmer discovered his canola seeds
had been "infected" at his distributor with GM seeds created by Bayer.

His crop was later cleared and declared GM-free.

Mr Carracher's biggest concern is once GM seeds become commercially
available, they would spread to all crops through pests, wind and human error.

He said he was yet to see any independent tests that proved the health
safety of GM food or financial viability for the grower.

"We have no idea what will happen down the line," he said. "It's
something that should be tested over 20 years. They are going to force
us into something that we know is not proven to be any better."

He said the multinationals Bayer and Monsanto were hiding behind a wall
of silence. This, he said, included their refusal to release statistics
on GM crop yields against non-GM yields.

He said farmers whose crops started growing GM seeds accidentally would
be made to pay licensing fees to avoid litigation, part of the
multinationals' plan to monopolise the seed industry.

"In the end we will have to buy their seed and buy their chemical
products," he said.

He said he would refuse to grow GM crops if the moratorium was lifted
but conceded he might be forced to change his stance over time.

Andrew Weidemann, 42, Rupanyup, east of Horsham

FOR grain farmer Andrew Weidemann, genetically modified food is the
revolution Australian farming has to have.

Crops that are cheaper, healthier and better for the environment, and
achieved with higher yields is how he sees the outcome.

"It's all about the right to choose the best technology that's provided
to us," he said. "It will allow us to produce crops that give all sorts
of benefit, from lower trans-fat levels to ... wheat that can be eaten by
people who are flour-intolerant.

"In the past, we've had a heavy reliance on herbicides and pesticides,
but this technology means we will use a lot less of this. It makes
farming a lot more cost-effective. We can go from spending $70 a hectare
on herbicide to between $15 and $20."

Mr Weidemann, 42, sees no big difference between the traditional
crossbred seeds Victorian farmers now plant and GM ones.

Genetic science, he says, just does it more efficiently. "It's smarter
science, that's all it is."

Traditional crossbreeding is like throwing darts at a dartboard and
hitting with one in every six darts.

Bio-technology means you can hit the board every time. It's about being
able to pick the right gene.

Mr Weidemann understands concerns about GM foods but says they are the
result of Greenpeace scare-mongering.

"Because so many people don't understand it, they will say they don't
want GM. But 95 per cent of people will buy it if it's cheaper. It's
bloody hypocrisy."


Who stands to benefit?

Leading biotechnology company. Its Roundup products are the world's best-
selling herbicides. Last year it recorded global seed sales of $US4
billion ($A4.9 billion). In Australia it sells genetically modified
cotton. It recently sold its Roundup Ready canola to Nufarm.

Based in Melbourne and listed on the ASX, Nufarm operates in New
Zealand, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It makes products that protect
crops from weeds, pests and disease. Last year it reached profits after
tax of $121 million on sales of $1.68 billion.

The global Bayer healthcare group subsidiary Bayer CropScience was
established in Australia in 2002 after the acquisition of Aventis
CropScience. It provides insecticides, herbicides and fungicides and
holds a GM canola licence.

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                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Treasurer may till soil for GM crops
SOURCE: The Age, Australia
AUTHOR: Jason Dowling & William Birnbauer
DATE:   20.05.2007

Treasurer may till soil for GM crops

JOHN BRUMBY could be one of the first Victorian farmers to grow
genetically modified crops on his land near Bendigo after the State
Treasurer revealed he would have no problem sowing the controversial plants.

The State Government will soon announce a review of its moratorium on
planting GM crops that expires in February and Mr Brumby is strongly
backing the pro-GM case.

Mr Brumby's farm runs sheep and has grown olives, but asked if he had
any problems about planting GM crops on his farmland, he said "I don't, no".

"My views on GM are well known and I am the Minister for Innovation, I
support science, scientific research so I have always supported GM
research," Mr Brumby told The Sunday Age .

"Indeed you might remember when we had the conference last year, the
world agriculture biotech conference out here, I took them all out to La
Trobe University where they are doing the research on the new rye
grass," he said.

"This is the anti-allergenic rye grass, so it will save us about $750
million a year in hay fever and asthma and make a lot of people's lives
more comfortable," he said.

"That's a GM product, everyone was pretty relaxed about that."

Despite Mr Brumby's support for a lifting of the ban, the move is
already causing deep divisions within the normally unified Bracks Government.

Gembrook MP Tammy Lobato is believed to be planning a major anti-GM
campaign that includes seeking support from the public, which she urged
to become involved.

She told The Sunday Age that the moratorium should continue beyond
February because of concerns over the impact of GM crops on human health
and the environment.

If GM crops were introduced it would mean the end of agriculture as we
know it, including the eradication of the age-old method of seed saving,
Ms Lobato said.

The introduction of GM crops could mean that all crops inadvertently
became genetically modified against the wishes of farmers and food
consumers, she said.

Ms Lobato warned that rural communities could be divided over the issue
and that farmers might face big liabilities and costs over cross-

GM technology was a profit-driven enterprise and she could not support a
technology that placed money ahead of people's welfare.

She said GM technology roped farmers into a system where all seeds were
controlled and patented by multinational agribusiness companies.

Despite the division within the Government, it is unlikely Labor members
will be granted a conscience vote on the issue.

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