GM pressure mounting

15 Feb, 2016 09:16 AM
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We've been very good to the Minister, but he's just promised and promised and promised

INDUSTRY pressure on Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston to push through the repeal of the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act this year is coming from all angles with advertising campaigns and grower letters driving the cause.

A group of high profile growers concerned Mr Baston is not invested in passing the repeal this year contacted his office on Friday suggesting it is too low on the priority list for the 2016 parliamentary sitting year.

Morawa grower and group representative Bill Crabtree said after three years Mr Baston needed to do away with his excuses and follow through on his commitment.

"We've been very good to the Minister, but he's just promised and promised and promised," he said.

"I went and saw him a week after he become the Minister for Agriculture and that was three years ago.

"He said that sounds like a good idea, we should get rid of that and here we are three years later and he hasn't done it.

"It's very frustrating."

After much pressure, the first reading of the Act occurred last November.

Moves to repeal the Act have been pushed by farm groups who fear the legislation could be used by a future Labor government to re-introduce a ban on Genetically Modified crops in WA.

WA Labor has threatened to use the laws to stop WA growers accessing the technology, if they were to be voted in at the next State election in March 2017.

Commercial production of GM canola was first allowed in WA by the current Liberal/National government in 2010, following successful large-scale on-farm trials the season before.

An exemption order was written by then Agriculture Minister Terry Redman allowing GM canola to be grown across the state.

Mr Baston has previously described the Act as "a piece of legislation purely designed for prohibition".

Introduced in 2003, it provides the minister with powers to designate areas of the State where GM crops can't be cultivated, or specific GM crops.

It also gives the minister powers to destroy GM crops and imposes $200,000 penalty for recklessly or knowingly growing the technology in restricted areas.

According to figures provided by Monsanto Australia, the amount of GM canola planted in WA has steadily increased over time, with 86,000 hectares planted in 2010, 94,800/ha in 2011, 121,694/ha in 2012, 167,596/ha in 2013, 260,000/ha in 2014 and 337,000ha in 2015.

Mr Crabtree said the closer we edged to the end of 2016 the less likely the Act would be touched as it would be politically sensitive leading into an election.

"The minister himself didn't do the first reading in November," he said.

"Usually people, if they're passionate about the issue and believe in the issue, the ministers have to carry it and put their energy behind it and drive the change and we're just not seeing Mr Baston do that.

"He's coming up with lots of excuses as to why we haven't been able to get it happening quicker than now.

"We know they've got business to do and we know it's a shorter year for politicians.

"There's only 10 (parliamentary sitting) weeks before the end of this financial year and they've got nearly 20 bills to get through in that time.

"They will only really get through about 10 and we know the GM Bill is right at the end of that."

Mr Crabtree said meetings held with Mr Baston over the past three years had been promising, but no action had followed.

"He's given us all the right words every time we've seen him," he said.

The letter is jointly signed by John Snooke (Cunderdin), Lewis Johnstone, Williams, Mike Baxter, Kojonup, Mark Adams, South Stirling, Tom Carmody, Cascades, Garry Cosgrove, Mingenew, Glen Thomas, Tenindewa, Duncan Young, Beverly, Jemma Sadler, Wongan Hills, John Young, Calingiri, Karen Strange, Bruce Rock, Mark Wandel, Gibson and Darren Morrell, Cunderdin.

In addition to the letter, agricultural chemical and biotechnology advocacy group CropLife Australia has joined with WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) to call on action by the WA Government.

The group launched an advertising campaign this week to remove the GM crop moratoriam and support science and facts.

CropLife Australia chief executive officer Matthew Cossey said WA growers needed certainty.

"WA's farmers must have confidence in access to these safe, effective modern agricultural innovations if Western Australia is to maintain and improve its position in an increasingly competitive international marketplace and this access is under serious threat," he said.

"That is why CropLife, in coordination with WAFarmers and the PGA, has undertaken a public information campaign this week in support of the Government's GM crop moratorium repeal Bill that had its first reading in Parliament in November last year."

WAFarmers grains council president Duncan Young said WA has the fastest growing GM area in Australia and farmers choose to grow GM crops because there is a market for it.

"There is no factual basis to deny growers in WA the right to choose a technology that is safe," he said.

PGA GM spokesman John Snooke said the urgent repeal of the Act is crucial to ensure the State's farming community can have access to the financial and environmental benefits of current and future innovation in agricultural biotechnology.

"The PGA has recognised the benefits GM crops since their introduction in the 1990s and now we see GM crops and non-GM crops being grown alongside one another all over the world," he said.

"Urgently repealing this redundant Act is the right and proper thing to do."

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READER COMMENTS

wtf
16/02/2016 6:23:10 AM, on Farm Weekly

Where is the documentation to prove the safety of GM crops? The only animal study undertaken in Aust resulted in negative health impacts from Gen Mod. To make the claim this science is safe contradicts Austn research to date.

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