New breed of 'greenies' have farmers in sights

27 Jun, 2001 10:00 PM

I HAVE never understood the attraction that some people have for "organic" food, but I do appreciate the fact that they don't try to convert me to their way of thinking, or seek legislation to force me to join them.

Organic growers and consumers are happy to rely on market forces to guarantee adequate supplies for local consumption or for export, but the new breed of professional greenies have no such tolerance of unbelievers.

Not only must individuals or businesses do as the green brothers and sisters tell them, they must also pay the financial cost of changing their lives to fit in with this narrow green vision of the future.

Farmers are prime targets for the green overlords, as illustrated recently with a typical shock-horror front-page story in the WA daily paper about an evil farmer who had cleared some land without permission.

He had cleared 500ha of scrub north of Perth, about one third of the amount that is cleared legally each year, with the authorities virtually conceding that permission to clear would never have been given.

As the fine for illegal clearing is still low enough to be affordable, the city-centric paper carried stern quotes that "stiffer fines" were needed to stop this sort of barbarism happening again.

It is not all that long since a farmer could have faced legal action for not clearing land, for the old Conditional Purchase title meant that ownership was conditional on a timetable of development being adhered to.

Very few farmers objected when the first clearing controls were introduced into WA around 15 years ago, with all virgin bush requiring an examination from the Ag Department to ensure that it was potentially viable country.

Even when it was decided that no farmer would be given permission to clear more than 90% of the total farm area it was no problem, because the restriction merely reflected the common sense approach taken by farmers.

But common sense didn't last the distance, because the 10pc uncleared limit soon became 20pc, with the new figure eventually applying to the amount of each local government area that was cleared.

Thus a farmer with only 50pc of his land cleared would be refused permission to clear any more, if the amount cleared in the Shire exceeded the arbitrary limit, forcing the late-comer to pay for the "sins" of the other farmers.

Yet one South West Shire with more than 80pc of its total area being state forests, found that individual farmers were still subjected to the 80pc rule and refused permission to clear if they exceeded that magic figure.

Farmers have no problem with reasonable, common sense clearing controls, or even the intervention by society for non scientific reasons, they merely ask that the people who perceive the benefit be prepared to pay for their pleasure.

Unfortunately, this reasonableness has not been shared by the legislators who prefer the concept of greening on the cheap, because it delivers to them the votes of the trendies without the odium of raising taxes to pay for them.

The same greens want to ban battery chickens, all intensively reared animals as well as live sheep and cattle exports, all without any compensation for the people who will bear the cost and without bothering to bring forward any scientific evidence to support their wishes.

Farmers have always demonstrated a willingness to change any practice that is found to be unsafe, unethical or causing long-term damage to the land, but the demands of these greens are emotive, not factual.

According to the green critics, foresters never harvest timber, they are only interested in cutting down "old growth forests" to make woodchips, while farmers are happy to see high mortality rates in animals in transit.

These claims all lack any sort of basis in economic fact and are an insult to the people they claim to describe, yet the mainstream media seem quite happy to repeat the claims without analysis.

The GMO debate seems to be going the same way, with emotive phrases like "Frankenstein Foods" gaining more media attention than any sound, rational debate on the new technology.

Some farmers believe that there is a marketing advantage in non GMO foods, just like the organic fans who are producing for their own niche market, but the GMO haters seem to prefer the big stick approach.

The new legislation to control GMO research has turned into an open invitation for all the various nutters to target research sites, with a recent ABC TV interview seemingly designed to encourage site invasions.

English and European eco-terrorists routinely invade farms to destroy crops or to "free" animals if their existence offends their sensibilities and it seems that they, or their ilk, will soon open up in Australia.

A rational, sensible approach to GMOs has the potential to make extra money for farmers while lessening the impact on the environment, but the actions in Australia, including "bans" by country shires, lack rational analysis.

The costs associated with dealing with these green terrorists, plus the cost of income foregone, is unlikely to come from the critics or the public, but - as usual - from the pockets of the nation's farmers.



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