Watch the US and learn

23 Feb, 2005 10:00 PM

AUSTRALIAN farmers could take a leaf out of the US book when it came to getting what they wanted from governments, a Crop Updates speaker said in reference to genetically modified crops.

US National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Leon Corzine said farmer groups had to be proactive in getting their message across and countering any misinformation in the media.

He believed the strategy had worked for US farmers when they tried to gain access to GM technology. GM crops have been grown in the US for nearly 10 years.

"I firmly believe that agricultural groups like yourselves have to be proactive in communicating to your governments what's important to you, what you do and why, be it biotechnology, fertiliser or water use," he said at the conclusion of his speech.

"Because the people on the other side of the issue are going to be there and many times they will not say the truth or half-truths, and you have to make your voice heard.

"I think that has made a big difference for us in the US."

Mr Corzine, who is also on the US Department of Agriculture biotechnology and 21st century agriculture committee, said he didn't always use biotechnology products on his farm.

They first had to pass tests in safety, providing the best products to customers and their economic viability.

"If we get a yield and quality response, and more dollars in the pocket, we will give it a try," he said.

"If it doesn't, we don't."

Mr Corzine said that in 2003, chemical use in the US had been reduced by six million kilograms.

"The idea and ability to control our systems with little or no chemicals is certainly very appealing," he said.

"We want to leave things better than when we found it.

"We have saved 34m gallons of diesel by changing these tillage systems."

Mr Corzine said farm groups had also worked hard to gain customer acceptance of biotechnology and were supported by a good regulatory system.

There was also a focus on grower awareness and compliance.

The next step in GM technology was expected in drought-tolerant varieties, flood resistance, enhanced nutrition for humans and animals, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and ethanol efficiencies.

"We have planted these products for 10 years and we do not have one human or animal health issue," he said.

There were perhaps good reasons for caution over GMs in the EU due to a lack of trust in the regulatory systems after such things as blood disorders and mad cow disease.

In response to questions about the control of GM technology by multi-national companies, Mr Corzine said there had been a resurgence of smaller companies selling the products.

Molecular Plant Breeding CRC chief executive officer Bryan Whan, also a guest speaker at Crop Updates, said Australia could be left behind if it remained GM free.

"My concern is Australia will lose long-term markets if our technology falls behind the rest of the world," he said.

Dr Whan said 17 countries used GM crops, with 8.25m farmers growing GM canola, maize, cotton, soybean and corn crops.

"In Argentina, soybean production has been trebled in seven years through GM technology," he said.

Dr Whan said China was about to release its first GM rice while other countries embracing biotechnology included India, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.

"Asia generally is spending billions of dollars on this technology and you have to ask where you want Australia to be in 2010," he said.

Dr Whan also disputed claims that there were premiums for non-GM crops.

He said Japan mixed Australia's non-GM canola with GM canola and the US has not lost any other markets.

Twenty-six Nobel Peace Prize winners supported GM technology.

"Why are all these people wrong and everybody else right?" he said. "Who should we be taking notice off?"

The CRC was conducting research on transgenic, drought-tolerant wheat in Mexico, with field trials showing pleasing results.

Vaccines and insulin, which had been available for 20 years, was genetically modified.

"We inject that into ourselves," Dr Whan said.



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