THE South Australian government recently extended its moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops by another six years, to 2019.
After Tasmania, South Australia is the country’s poorest and slowest growing state, with the highest unemployment, and both are heavily subsidised by the other states. Both are also the only two states to maintain moratoriums on GM crops. It’s an interesting correlation.
The reasons offered for extending the SA moratorium were ludicrous.
The decision was announced by the Minister for Tourism (not the more obvious Minister for Agriculture) who suggested it “sent a strong message to consumers of South Australian food and wine” and “gives primary producers and food and wine manufacturers a competitive edge in the global marketplace.”
“Non-GM crops attract greater market prices and uphold the exceptional quality of SA’s food sector”, he said.
There are only two GM crops approved for commercial cultivation in Australia: cotton and canola. Cotton is not grown in SA. To the extent canola is consumed domestically, it is in the form of cooking oil and cattle feed. Fairly obviously, SA food producers can and do use canola oil from other states.
In fact most canola is exported. Some of the non-GM canola crop goes to Japan but most goes to the EU for conversion into biodiesel, highly subsidised of course. The EU also has a moratorium on the cultivation of GM crops (with a limited exception for corn) and is in an even worse economic state than SA and Tasmania.
The reason non-GM canola sometimes attracts a higher price is that growers who have a choice generally prefer not to grow it, which leads to occasional scarcities. The lower production costs of the GM varieties make it more financially attractive, estimated by the farmer group Grain Producers SA to add up to about $15 a tonne.
But the real reasons for continuing the moratorium were not those stated in the Minister’s announcement. Rather, they were revealed in an interview on an Adelaide radio station in which he claimed that Monsanto, one of two companies currently marketing genetically modified canola seed, was a “poison peddler” which isn’t interested in “making foods, they actually make poisons and chemicals, things like Agent Orange”.
He went on to say: “If we let them continue down the path they are, they’re going to own all the food supply in the world”.
What this shows is that the decision was based on the same immoral ideology followed by extreme green groups, including the Greens party, that asserts modern technology is all bad and large companies are evil.
Facts don’t matter much to these people but for what it’s worth, Monsanto is the inventor of the herbicide glyphosate, which extremists have sought to vilify in recent years in an effort to undermine its role in upholding the credentials of no-till farming and herbicide tolerant GM crops.
What really bugs them is that it contradicts their assumption that everything about modern agriculture is unsustainable. Glyphosate has probably contributed to more positive environmental outcomes than the total combined efforts of the Greens, WWF and Greenpeace by several orders of magnitude. Yet they would prefer it was still sitting on the shelf while they argued the precautionary principle.
Monsanto is almost exclusively a seed technology company these days, with glyphosate virtually the only chemical active it sells. As far as I know it has never sold “Agent Orange”, a combination of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, at any time anywhere in the world.
As for owning the food supply, that belongs in the same conspiracy family as black helicopters, chemtrails and truthers. The market for GM seeds is highly competitive with a growing list of equally large competitors, and farmers always have a choice whether to plant any of them.
The implication that food from GM sources is not safe is a repeated claim of the anti-GM lobby that disregards current circumstances, decades of science and the competence of regulators. Food containing ingredients from GM sources has been widely consumed in South Australia for many years, there is not a skerrick of evidence to show it is less safe than non-GM food, and before it can be sold there is close scrutiny by Food Standards ANZ.
And the insistence that SA’s food sector has a world reputation for producing clean, green premium food that is enhanced by preventing GM crop cultivation in the state is delusional. Some of SA’s wines are excellent, no doubt, but then so are some from Victoria, WA and NSW. And can you think of any other food for which SA is renowned?
There are no winners from the decision to extend the moratorium; not consumers, the wine industry, food producers or the South Australian economy. There are only losers.
Chief among these are grain growers who are denied the right to use the same technology as their competitors in other states. There is no doubt many of them would grow GM canola if they had the choice, but that option has been taken out of their hands. It is costing them money.
The other loser is the reputation of South Australia. The decision shows South Australia is unwilling to embrace the twenty-first century, preferring to fight discredited ideological battles from the last century. Given the economic implications, it also suggests there is little willingness to overcome its mendicant reliance on the other states.
And if you think the state election next March might offer a solution, think again. The state Opposition supports the decision.
David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 year and was recently elected to the Senate for the Liberal Democrats. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org