Barnett comment clouds GM research

31 Mar, 2011 08:35 AM

COMMENTS by Premier Colin Barnett have thrown into doubt the direction of genetically modified crop research in WA.

In response to questions by WA Opposition agriculture spokesman Mick Murray in State Parliament last week, Mr Barnett said during a recent trip to Japan he told flour millers there would be no GM wheat from WA.

"When we got to the area of GM or drought-resistant varieties and other issues, I made the point that our policy has been to have GM canola, which has been introduced and also GM cotton in the north of the State," Mr Barnett said.

"I said we did not have a policy for, and would not be having, GM wheat."

This seemingly flew in the face of Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman's big push for GM research with nine million dollars allocated in the 2010-11 State Budget for new GM research facilities at Merredin and Katanning.

Mr Redman said research would evaluate GM canola, wheat, barley and lupins.

In March 2009, Mr Redman told the Rural Media Association, "we shouldn't be afraid to dip our toe in the pool - or the gene pool as it may be with GM crops".

In response to questions from Farm Weekly, Mr Redman said the Liberal-National Government remained committed to research and science programs to provide WA farmers with access to the latest and best technologies to remain internationally competitive.

"The Federal Government's Office of the Gene Technology Regulator is the responsible body for licensing and monitoring trials of GM technology and has granted licences for GM wheat trials in WA and NSW," Mr Redman said.

"Given that GM wheat is unlikely to be released in the next 10 years, this government has not contemplated a position on the commercialisation of GM wheat."

Mr Murray said he was surprised by Mr Barnett's comments considering the GM Bill had already been brought into the House for GM canola.

"Colin has overridden the National Party which has jumped into bed with Monsanto," Mr Murray said.

Intergrain, an offshoot of the Department of Agriculture and Food's cereal breeding arm, entered into a partnership with Monsanto last year.

Mr Redman said at the time that Monsanto's minority shareholding in InterGrain would enable access to more advanced breeding technologies and germplasm of improved varieties to benefit the State's growers.

But Mr Murray said it could all go Monsanto's way if the knowledge gained from the partnership was used in the rest of the world but not WA.

"The State is not going to benefit if it is not used in WA," he said.

He said Intergrain was 80 per cent funded by the taxpayer.

Mr Murray said the nine million dollars earmarked for GM crop research in the last budget should be quarantined and put into the normal crop breeding process.

"I'm not against science but you don't have to have GM crops for salinity and drought-tolerance," he said.

"Even now there is $50/t premium for non-GM crops.

"Mr Barnett is reading the electorate and stepping over Terry Redman."

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2/04/2011 3:16:04 PM, on Farm Weekly

Great to see the WA Government finally coming out with some sensible statements when it comes to GM crops. No market in the world wants GM wheat and it's appalling that Redman has invested $9 million in taxpayers money into a dead-end technology. The money would be much better spent on proven technologies such as marker assisted selection. Scientists are already developing drought tolerant canola in Victoria and salt tolerant wheat in WA without resorting to GM. The reason the GM crop companies want to develop these traits using GM instead is so they can patent them. This will mean big gains for the GM crop industry but everyone else stands to suffer. That's what makes Redman's selling of 20 per cent of Intergrain to Monsanto so disappointing. Soon farmers may have no option whether to grow GM crops or not as all the new varieties will contain a GM gene. Brian Whan from Intergrain has already admitted as much on Country Hour: content/201008/s2994531.htm


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