Is Australia falling behind?

15 Sep, 2006 08:45 PM
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AUSTRALIA is at risk of falling behind the rest of the world if GMs are not introduced, according to a keynote speaker at last week's GM forum at the University of WA (UWA).

State Opposition agriculture spokesman Gary Snook opened the proceedings and said Australia had to take the next step forward and embrace GMs.

After recently touring GM canola farms in Canada, Mr Snook said it was clear to him that Canadian growers were reaping the benefits of growing GM canola.

He said he questioned the growers about the risks and fears commonly associated with GMs, such as superweeds, but they were confident those fears would not transpire.

Canadian GM canola agronomist Roy Button confirmed Mr Snook's comments by saying Canada had a similar debate to Australia before the widespread acceptance of GMs.

Mr Button said there was no segregation of GM and non-GM canola in Canada, which had virtually destroyed the country's organic canola industry because of the zero tolerance contamination policy.

According to Mr Button, there had been a 40pc decrease in herbicide use since GM canola was introduced but growers were still concerned about industry control issues with multinational companies having all the seed control.

Currently in Canada there are eight major companies breeding more than 200 varieties of GM canola.

Most varieties carry a technology use agreement (TUA), which prevents growers from reusing the seed.

Mr Button said while the companies had control of the seed, there was still a lot of power within growers, and competition was essential to the industry.

"There is no reluctance to take on the big companies if they don't treat us right," he said.

Closer to home, Queensland cottongrower Jeff Bidstrup said if it had not been for GM cotton, he would not have survived as a farmer.

Mr Bidstrup said the adoption of GMs by countries at a machinery-technology disadvantage such as India, had put them on par with Australia.

He said since the introduction of GM cotton into India, their yields had increased by 50pc.

"No longer are their crops wiped out by insects as they were previously," Mr Bidstrup said.

"We no longer have a technological advantage over these places."

According to Mr Bidstrup, Australian cottongrowers represented 2pc of global GM crops in 1996 but that figure had now dropped to 0.3pc.

He compared that to figures showing the growth of global GM cotton crops, from 30pc in 1996, to 95pc now.

"GM technology is the biggest leg-up American farmers have ever had," Mr Bidstrup said.

"The current WA moratorium is outdated and based on poor information."

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