Beach babes battling biotech

who was next in line to oppose GMs in WA – Benny Hill, Charlie Sheen or Ricardo Montalban?

WORKING in the Canberra press gallery covering rural and agricultural issues can often be a highly stressful and demanding role with limited chance for laughter.

However, I wanted to thank the producers of a video message that arrived in my inbox recently, for altering the pace and tone of my daily grind.

The irreverent video features seven, smiling teenage girls lying on a sun-drenched beach in Hawaii, employing semiotic debauchery to blatantly destroy any semblance of truth or science around plant biotechnology and sway WA voters into backing the Greens and the ALP for opposing GMs (genetically modified crops).

I looked on in interest at these young girls, hand jiving and using a brand of juvenile language that would even make Paris Hilton seem highly intelligent, offering instructions on the politics of plant science.

“Please vote for Western Australia Labors and Greens who are against GMOs and please do not vote for Western Australia Liberals or Nationals – mahalo,” the Babes Against Biotech say, ever so sweetly, as to seem trustworthy.

Now I can understand why the general public expects serious journalists to adhere to robust science and facts, provided by credible sources, when reporting on issues like GMs, to guide audiences towards greater truths.

But it seems this email message wants to influence journalists’ opinions through the use of busty girls, with little regard for clothing or science, lying on beach towels in a land far, far away.

Thanks to the Babes, the laughs just kept rolling in all morning, not unlike those gentle Hawaiian waves in the scenic back-ground of the anti-GM video clip, highlighting the email’s bereft message.

Some industry members - between waves of laughter - even offered to administer a full debriefing on modern plant breeding science and farm policy in Australia to these Hawaiian girls.

One concerned industry member even offered to start a counter campaign featuring a video from Australian grain producers, opposing the use of fibreglass surfboards on Hawaiian beaches, or cancer prevention sunscreens approved by US health regulators.

Another asked who was next in line to oppose GMs in WA – Benny Hill, Charlie Sheen or Ricardo Montalban?

Another said not to worry as the video only appealed to children under the age of 10 who had another eight years to go before they were legally eligible to vote.

Now before we get too far down the track into the ridiculous and complete sublime, there’s a serious message that must be pointed out to intelligent readers, of voting age.

Quite simply, this attempt to influence voters during the WA election campaign shifts the anti-GM movement well beyond any semblance of credibility, if it hadn’t already arrived at that juncture after Greenpeace destroyed CSIRO trials of GM wheat in July 2011, using whipper-snippers and wearing Hazmat suits.

We already know the anti-GM brigade have a solid reputation, displayed by their actions over many years, for producing misinformation that blatantly ignores proven science, while embracing emotive scaremongering and fear driven arguments.

For a reference on that popular fact-free, demonization strategy, just ask Mark Lynas.

The one-time leading campaigner against GM technology in the UK made a major speech in January, apologising for demonising GM crops while ignoring proven science and helping start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s.

Rather than acknowledging what Mr Lynas had to say, Nomi Carmona of Babes Against Biotech says, “We seriously want to stop GMO everywhere but especially in Western Australia”.

And in following the well-trodden path towards the muddied waters of misinformation - which look nothing like those gorgeous, sky-blue Hawaiian waters featured in the Babes’ video - the activist dives into a now discredited study by French Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini.

The Seralini study was published in the US science journal Food and Chemical Toxicology last year and linked GM corn consumption to cancer, liver and kidney damage in rats.

The Safe Food Foundation has also highlighted Seralini’s work and used the same tactics as the Babes, in producing a 15 second anti-GM commercial to sway WA voters towards the ALP and Greens and away from the Liberals and Nationals.

But neither video mentions critical rulings from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) dismissing Professor Séralini’s claims of adverse health effects on rats.

In addition, they both make no mention on how GM cotton’s introduction in Australia almost two decades ago has given cotton farmers “undeniable commercial and environmental benefits”, according to Cotton Australia CEO Adam Kay.

But by ignoring the science of GMs, clear evidence from local success stories, and only highlighting fear mongering in trying to influence WA voters, Babes Against Biotech may have also delivered a blessing in disguise.

They have left WA Labor’s Shadow Agriculture Minister Paul Papalia thoroughly exposed – like a bare back without sunscreen lying on a Hawaiian beach mid-summer.

There’s now a post-election podium primed for him to step onto and be ridiculously crowned the Minister for Babes Against Biotech and Anti-Science Fear-Mongering.

If the ALP were to win the March 9 election, Mr Papalia would be forced to keep his word and go back to the future to ban GM crops in a policy manoeuvre driven by the backing of bikini-clad, Hawaiian teenagers.

By doing so, he would effectively only re-enforce fear, misinformation and the community’s misunderstanding of the French Professor’s study, and dismiss the comprehensive library of evidence and expert opinions on the GM issue, at his disposal.

That includes the unified backing of GMs from WA’s two farm main lobby groups - that normally argue over almost everything – support from national grains and farming industry organisations, the Federal Labor party and Coalition.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig says the Australian government considers agricultural biotechnology can play an important part in helping to deal with emerging challenges, including those arising from climate change, pressure on global food supplies and the management of pests and diseases.

The government’s National Food Plan has sought feedback on a proposal to work with the states and territories towards developing a national strategy on the consistent application of modern biotechnology in agriculture.

The strategy would consider constraints to the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture - including GM crops - and outline a clear path to market for emerging biotechnology applications where appropriate.

Mr Papalia’s anti-GM views effectively put him at odds with Federal Labor and Minister Ludwig before he’s even started WA’s top WA farming job.

At the behest of Babes Against Biotech and Mr Papalia, will Minister Ludwig now reconsider and reverse the government’s position on biotechnology?

Will he now seek to prevent Australian grain growers from accessing potential strains of frost tolerant wheat or drought tolerant varieties that could help improve their bottom lines and grow cops on soils and produce food in years ahead, where otherwise nothing would be planted?

What does Babes Against Biotech think of that?

Shortly after his appointment, several industry members met with Mr Papalia to discuss the underlying science and benefits of using GM technologies.

They were told the WA Labor MP was happy about the concept of GM crops, except he wanted all GM produce labelled.

But seeing his name featuring so prominently in a dumb-downed anti-GM campaign in recent days has raised fears as to whether he can be trusted to follow scientific reasoning.

Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology at the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University, Michael Jones, said “One might question how the Labor Party of WA can be so ill-informed and ill-advised that they continue to propagate Seralini’s discredited rubbish”.

“If this is his level of scientific understanding, Paul Papalia as Minister of Agriculture would be a disaster for agriculture in WA,” he said.

Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.


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