GM moratorium slows progress for WA canola

31 May, 2006 08:45 PM
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A MORATORIUM on the production of genetically modified (GM) canola is agitating the progress of WA's canola industry.

Speaking at the launch of Oilseeds WA's latest venture, senior representatives agreed with questioning that suggested the moratorium on GM crop production was stifling the progress of WA's canola industry.

Oilseeds WA executive officer John Duff agreed with a suggestion that WA's canola industry was being held back by the moratorium, while Oilseeds WA chairman John Slee said growers needed access to any new technologies that placed more "tools" in the grower's "tool kits".

WA growers are frustrated at being denied access to a technology that Canada, a key market competitor, has adopted for more than 10 years.

Canadian canola growers benefit from technology choice with their seed and in 2005 opted for 48pc Roundup Ready (GM); 34pc InVigor (GM plus hybrids); 14pc Clearfield (non-GM herbicide tolerant); and 4pc conventional seed.

WA canola growers are restricted to the production of triazine-tolerant (TT) canola, however TT canola is not necessarily the "green" alternative that anti-GM campaigners believe it to be.

The production of TT canola is dependent on atrazine, a herbicide being phased out in Europe because it poses an unacceptable environmental risk.

Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) rates atrazine as "a pesticide of major concern", and says that while the herbicide is becoming less widely used, the effects of its long-term persistence may still cause health and environmental problems in the future.

Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes healthy food, agriculture and an environment which provides food and public health needs without dependence on toxic chemicals.

But grains industry development director at the Agriculture Department David Bowram, said atrazine rated as one of the most effective herbicides for treating TT canola crops.

He also said that local restrictions on atrazine ensured that the pesticide was used on a much smaller scale than in Europe.

PGA policy director Slade Brockman said the GM moratorium on canola was not only politically motivated, it was also damaging the industry.

"The moratorium is a political device designed to shore up Green preferences," Mr Brockman said.

"Labor wants to secure Green preferences going into the next election but if Labor shifted its stance on biotech, it could put those preferences at risk.

"WA growers are being left behind their major competitors.

"In Canada 97pc of the canola crop is made up of biotech varieties.

"Biotech crops are safe and environmentally friendly.

"In general they allow the use of less dangerous chemicals, and in smaller amounts, than conventional varieties.

"While atrazine is a useful chemical, particularly in the absence of biotech varieties, the alternatives would be preferred when the biotech canola varieties become available."

Mr Duff and Mr Slee were speaking at the launch of Oilseeds WA's latest industry tool, a 54-page booklet called Growing Western Canola, a manual on best practise for growing canola in WA.

Oilseeds WA's latest contribution to the grower's tool kit was launched last week at CBH head office.

The booklet is an initiative of Oilseeds WA and Grain Pool and its production resulted form a comprehensive partnership of WA's canola industry representatives.

Described as a bible for canola growers in WA, the booklet contains everything growers need to know about canola production in WA.

Mr Duff said the booklet was a major achievement for the industry.

"This booklet demonstrates how WA's canola industry can work together to access its own knowledge to benefit all sectors," Mr Duff said.

"The association has demonstrated over the past two years that we can provide information of benefit to all sectors from plant breeding, production, processing, handling and marketing."

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) provided funding with editorial contributions from a variety of industry representatives including private, commercial and independent agronomists.

About 2500 copies have been printed and will be distributed to growers who produced 160,000 tonnes of canola or more at last harvest.

Other canola growers can expect to receive a letter outlining details on how to obtain the booklet while other important information can be accessed from the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) web site.

The booklet is part of an overall package of grower information that includes seasonal updates, grower case studies, benchmarks, research reviews, workshops and variety trials and demonstrations.

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