BUSINESS & POLICY: GE crops to secure the future of farming in Queensland (Australia)
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE: GM CROPS MAY GROW ON FARMERS
SOURCE: Brisbane Times, Australia
AUTHOR: Marissa Calligeros
SUMMARY: "Speaking this week for the last time in his role as president of the federation after 10 years at the helm, Gary Sansom pointed to GMOs to secure the future of farming in Queensland. Reflecting on his time as federation president, which was marked by drought and then last summer?s floods, Mr Sansom said GM crops may provide a ?piece of the jigsaw? needed to help farmers better adapt to climate change."
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GM CROPS MAY GROW ON FARMERS
The outgoing president of the Queensland Farmers? Federation says genetically modified organisms may have a big part to play in the state?s agricultural industry.
Speaking this week for the last time in his role as president of the federation after 10 years at the helm, Gary Sansom pointed to GMOs to secure the future of farming in Queensland.
Reflecting on his time as federation president, which was marked by drought and then last summer?s floods, Mr Sansom said GM crops may provide a ?piece of the jigsaw? needed to help farmers better adapt to climate change.
?It?s going to be a very important tool for us in the future, if people are prepared to accept it and the science says we should be able to accept it,? he said.
Mr Sansom was admitted to the Order of Australia for his contribution to the development of sustainable agricultural practices and for promoting environmental and biosecurity management systems within the chicken meat industry.
He said GMOs would significantly benefit the farming industry in Queensland.
He said the debate over GM crops had been ?skewed towards the negative?, rather than focusing on the science.
?We need to have a good, robust, science-based debate about GMOs,? he said.
Mr Sansom said state and federal debate on GMOs could not be overshadowed by concerns over the impact of coal seam gas exploration in Queensland and a possible ban on live exports to South East Asia.
?I don?t think we can afford to keep pushing it behind us all the time,? he said.
Queensland cotton farmers have been able to access GM technology since 1996 and have overwhelmingly chosen to plant GM herbicide tolerant and insect resistant varieties - namely BT cotton.
The use of insect-resistant GM cotton, instead of conventional cotton, is said to have reduced pesticide use by around 85 per cent, although there are concerns from the CSIRO about the BT toxin residing in soils.
?Farmers have already adapted to some quite extreme climate variability - farmers are very good at that,? Mr Sansom said.
?We just need to make sure we give them the tools they need to continue on with that and that may mean more research and development into new crop types.
?We need to be having a more serious debate about genetically modified organisms and what they may be able to offer us for the future.?
Genetically modified canola - resistant to herbicides and pests - was the second crop to be licensed for commercial production by the country?s Gene Technology Regulator, who oversees trials of GMOs by leading researcher CSIRO.
Queensland was the only Australian state not to enact a moratorium on GM canola. The Northern Territory also welcomed its commercial production.
?There are certainly issues that need to be looked at like environmental issues ... but at the same time we need to say, ?Is this one of the tools that we have in the tool box that we may be able to use in the future to make us more productive in terms of our food, fibre and foliage?? Mr Sansom said.
?We may never see genetically modified tomatoes, there may be things other than the fruit itself [we can modify]. ?Genetically modified? doesn?t necessarily impact on the fruit itself.?
However, Greenpeace campaigner Claire Parfitt said GM crops were a ?dead end?.
Ms Parfitt said genetically modified food ?is the apex of a chemically intensive industrial agriculture system?.
?The future of farming, if it is going to be sustainable, is going to be one that looks at how we can ... avoid having to put things into the system constantly and rather use what?s already in the system,? she said.
Greenpeace advocates diversity in farming, whereby farmers grow a variety of crops, ?rather than an investment in quick-fixes like GM?, Ms Parfitt said.
?There?s little evidence to show that GM crops provide better yields. In fact, in the US where they have had GM crops for years, they have seen an increase in chemical use,? she said.
?So far we haven?t seen any crops commercialised that are drought-resistant; we have seen no crops commercialised that have any type of increased nutrition.?
Mr Sansom, who runs a chicken meat farm at Stockleigh, south of Brisbane, with his wife Julie, has been president of the federation since 2001 and was at the table at its formation in 1992.?I understand there is a measure of nervousness about GMOs,? he said.
?It will only work if people are confident that [GMOs] are not going to create issues for them.
?There are two pillars to the economy of Queensland and I really think one of them is agriculture, and the other is mining.
?I really believe that given all the issues and negativity, it is agriculture that will continue to power on, provided we don?t develop policy settings that hinder productivity for the future.?
Bruce Lee, director of the CSIRO?s Food Futures Flagship since 2004, said GMOs are a means of producing ?more food, more sustainably?.
?With any technology you introduce, there?s always an element of society that says you should look at this technology more closely ... [but] there?s always a risk ... involved with an introduction,? Dr Lee said.
?We have some farmers that are opposed to GM. But a lot of farmers are looking for new technology, particularly technology that can help us in terms of the climatic conditions we have here in Australia.
?Many, many farmers I talk to are concerned about doing the right thing by the country the farm in terms of sustainability.?
Queensland Farmers? Federation yesterday welcomed southwest Queensland cotton grower, Joanne Grainger, as the organisation?s new president.