Keen, green fighting machine

How long does the jury have to be out before reasonable people reach a verdict on GM crops?

SOUTH Australia’s new Minister for Agriculture, Leon Bignell, thinks he knows something about agriculture.

A former journalist, born and bred on a dairy farm in the State’s south-east, he represents McLaren Vale and regards being Agriculture Minister as his “dream job”.

In my opinion he hasn’t got a clue - or more precisely, whatever clues he has in regards to genetically modified (GM) crops are ill-informed claptrap. But because he is in a position to adopt policies that reflect his views, he could cause enormous hardship to the southern agriculture sector.

In a recent radio interview Bignell acknowledged he had “led the charge” in affirming the State’s ban on the cultivation of GM crops. SA and Tasmania are the only States that still have such bans.

In the interview he said: “We don’t know what the long-term health benefits or problems are. The jury is still well and truly out. Most of the science is coming from the big 'poison' companies – Bayer, Monsanto and the like”.

He went on: "I don't want to be the politician who was like the politicians in the 50s, who listened to the story of big tobacco and thought, 'Oh yeah, it's ok'. I don't want to be the politician like the politicians in the 70s, who listened to James Hardie who said there are no dangers with asbestos".

And perhaps most telling of all, “I think the general population is actually quite scared of the consequences of GM”.

I’m no psychologist, but I suspect he is personally frightened of something about which he knows less than nothing, and has extrapolated that fear to assume this view is representative of his fellow South Australians. And while we are all entitled to our opinion, his passion on the subject makes me doubt he has much interest in addressing this ignorance.

That he is profoundly wrong cannot be doubted.

In 2013, 11 types of GM crops were grown by more than 18 million farmers in 27 countries. GM crop areas have increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to over 175 million in 2013. To say the "general" population is scared or doesn't want GM is to take a very narrow view.

GM crops have reduced the need for 497 million kg of pesticides, cut CO2 emissions by 27 billion kg in 2012 alone, saved 120 million hectares of land from being placed in agricultural production, alleviated poverty for 16.5 million small farmers and farm families totalling more than 65 million people, and reduced water use in cropping by up to 32 per cent.

In Australia, more than 600,000 hectares of GM cotton and canola were planted in 2013. Last year, planting of GM canola in Western Australia went up 38pc from 2012.

Among all that, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest anyone’s health was even remotely harmed.

And how long does the jury have to be out before reasonable people reach a verdict? GM cotton (from which edible cotton seed oil is produced) has been grown in Australia since 1996 while the US and Canada were growing GM tomatoes, cotton and canola for several years prior to that.

Bignell’s comparison of GM food with asbestos and tobacco is a shabby slur on the conscientious experts at Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Office of Gene Technology Regulator. These organisations were established, backed by legislation, to prevent exactly the kind of things Bignell is worried about. They are the ones, along with numerous other regulators around the world, which have relied on sound science to declare GM food safe.

As for “poison companies”, Bignell must have grown up on a different type of dairy farm from me. We used poisons to control things like worms, lice and mastitis in our cows. I expect he has never heard the famous observation by the sixteenth century toxicologist Paracelsus, who said, “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy”.

In any case, Monsanto’s sole “poison” is glyphosate, barely more hazardous than dihydrogen monoxide. And Bayer and Monsanto both employ tens of thousands of employees globally, spend billions on research and development and pay billions in taxes.

SA’s government has a legitimacy problem. As the Australian Financial Review’s recent editorial put it: “Against their wishes, South Australians will be lumbered over the next four years with a minority Labor government that has run out of ideas, is at the end of its electoral cycle after three terms in office and which should have been tossed out”.

South Australians certainly did not vote for a government that promotes the ignorant policies of green extremism, and the State’s farmers did not vote to be kept uncompetitive against their interstate and international competitors. They deserves better.

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FarmOnline
David Leyonhjelm

David Leyonhjelm

has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
Date: Newest first | Oldest first

READER COMMENTS

John Newton
7/04/2014 6:26:42 AM

Methinks the claptrap is coming from the other side Fact: GE crops have been responsible for an increase of 383 million pounds of herbicide use in the US over the first 13 years of commercial use of GE crops (1996–2008). The primary cause of the increase [is] the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds. Proof of this is Dow chemicals moving from 'safe'' glyphosate to 2,4-D one of the ingredients of agent orange, banned in many countries and restricted in use here As for safe glyphosate, how do we know? Our APVMA, like FSANZ is a rubber stamp organisation, doing no testing on anything
Hydatid
7/04/2014 6:44:33 AM

Australians: 10% rusted on Anti 10% rusted on Pro The rest of the population couldn't give a rats...! Of that remaining 80% most will be pro if the story is good, will tolerate it if there is no story (like now), and will be against it if the story is bad. ...Simple
Sarge
7/04/2014 6:54:49 AM

Who is being emotional here? The Minister refers to the "big 'poison' companies"! Does he know what agriculture is about in the 21st century? Does he want farmers to go back to the mouldboard plough and burning. Most of the crop yield increases in the last 50 years have come from judicious use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, all sold by the 'poison' companies. I want the option of GM crops, but not because I want use R/R. I do not want to burn that chemical card. I want the other valuable crop traits, admittedly more difficult to incorporate into the plant. Look around Minister.
Bob F
7/04/2014 7:02:43 AM

An excellent article.
Jude
7/04/2014 7:52:38 AM

I, and many others like me, will never knowingly consume anything that comes from GM crops. We do not know the long term affects on human health. 100 years ago cancer was 1 in 10, it is now 1 in 2. The world is now full of auto immune diseases, allergies, obesity, diabetes etc. What has changed? The food production and processing. Anything with a number against an ingredient in the information panel is a chemical so we are consuming excessive amounts of chemicals. You are what you eat. Why eat GM before we know what it can do? A big NO from me.
Moondog
7/04/2014 8:11:49 AM

There is nothing wrong with sticking with conventionally bred oilseeds and grains if the profits returned to growers is the same on a /ha basis. Processors still want non-GM because consumers still want non-GM. The end consumer will make the choice and pay more for non-GM if that is what they want. If the purchase decision is based on good science or simply becuase they dont trust the multi-nationals to diliver a safe technology is irrelevant. At the end of the day the farmer will make a choice based on what is good for his or her business - not what politicians or blog jocks think.
slim
7/04/2014 8:12:42 AM

It is interesting that the the only people who write about this are either very much pro or very much against. If we all did some market research about the market for organic and /or non GM products then regardless if GM is good or bad health wise a point of difference( ie not following the crowd to GM) may be a good marketing advantage.
farmer Liz
7/04/2014 8:15:00 AM

The states who remain GM free are going to find themselves at an advantage as they can market a niche product to those who do care about what they eat. Farmers need to remember that they grow a product for a customer, and while cost is a consideration, a growing number find that quality is just as important.
R See 1
7/04/2014 8:22:14 AM

The new SA minister wants to check his own backyard......with SARDI and affiliates very active in developing GM crop varieties. And necessarily so. It is the Minister who needs a dead realignment and move to allow use of GM crops. Those that want to will, and others will not use. Do not need the government to deny use of GM varieties, and improve productivity of producers. There is a role for both - but do not deny use of GM crops.
farmer Liz
7/04/2014 8:25:02 AM

I hadn't read page 2 in my last comment, David you are naive and out-dated in your thinking. Our understanding of the human boday have come a long way since Paracelsus! When it comes to synthetic chemicals messing with hormones any dose is a poison, and glyphosate is certainly not harmless, it is well recorded in scientific literature that is damages soil and animals (unbiased literature that is, those research dollars are put to good use in pushing propaganda). Please inform yourself before you become a senator and inflict your ignorance on our country.
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Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com

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