SOUTH Australian grain farmers have hit out at the politics underpinning the argument over genetically modified (GM) crops in their State, while calling for a rational, science-focused debate to prevail.
Grain Producers SA (GPSA) chief executive Darren Arney said the GM debate was “already clouded by emotion and misinterpretation of information”.
But the public debate between State and federal government members in recent weeks had done nothing to remove politics from the GM argument.
SA’s ongoing moratorium on GM crops has been highlighted during the lead-up to State Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell’s controversial appearance at an anti-Monsanto and anti-GM rally in Adelaide today.
Last week, South Australian Liberal Senator Sean Edwards questioned the Minister’s appearance at the rally, standing alongside the Greens and activist group Deep Green Resistance.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce also weighed also into the controversy this week, saying the GM debate had to move on from the “religious” and onto the scientific.
In a statement issued on Friday, Mr Arney said the SA government “seems to be confused on GM crop technology in three key areas – food safety, chemical use and economic benefits”.
He said Mr Bignell’s comments – after his appointment in March – comparing the safety of GM crops to tobacco and asbestos were, “irresponsible and contradict the latest science, which points to the safety of GM crops”.
“Australia has an enviable regulatory system governing food safety through Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) which assesses each new genetic modification for its potential impact on food safety and does not approve a food unless it is safe to eat,” he said.
“FSANZ says the following: ‘If the genetic modification causes an unexpected effect in the food, such as increasing its allergenicity or toxicity, it will not be approved. To date, we have identified no safety concerns with any of the GM foods that we have assessed. Other national regulators who have independently assessed the same GM foods have reached the same conclusions’.
“This is a clear statement from a globally-respected, science-based organisation that disproves the State government’s assertion that GM foods are not safe.”
Mr Arney said GPSA believed the State Government’s participation in the March Against Monsanto rally, “displays its bias on the GM issue and the fact it is not listening to the needs of the grain industry as one of the biggest export-earning industries in this State”.
He said the march was also a rally against the legal use of crop protection products to deliver clean, fresh food.
GPSA also called on the State government to publicly disclose the figures that prove the SA economy is receiving an economic benefit by being GM-free.
“Last harvest, SA canola was sold for $15 a tonne less than Victorian canola where GMs are grown, showing there was no financial benefit to grain producers being GM free,” he said.
“South Australian grain growers are falling behind their counterparts in other States.
“They must have the freedom to choose to grow whatever crops will deliver the best return for their business.
“It should be an on-farm decision made by growers, not a decision made for them as part of the political process.”
The Minister’s rally appearance was also criticised by Monsanto and CropLife Australia who vigorously defended the science and safety of GM crops and farmers’ rights to choose products approved by federal and global regulatory agencies.
CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said, “GM is the most tested food and agricultural technology in our history… we’ve had 4 trillion meals based on GM crops served around the world and not one health incident”.
Yesterday, Senator Edwards also challenged Minister Bignell to visit the Adelaide based Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics which he described as a “world class science-based leader with world renowned scientists, enhancing broad acre crops resistance to drought, heat and poor soils”.
“In these extraordinary attacks, it should be noted that Minister Bignell has no idea of what work is being conducted and has not even bothered to ascertain the science work conducted at the Waite Campus and revered around the world,” he said.
“I understand that the Minister is new to his portfolio, but to take such a left wing green agenda without educating himself before making these outlandish comparisons to asbestos, exposes to everyone informed in this debate of his ignorance
“It is extraordinary that the South Australian Agriculture Minster now has the South Australian farmers rail against his position, which is more in keeping with the Greens.
“Why is the Minister so out of touch with his Federal Labor colleges and why is he sucking up to the Greens policy?”
Mr Bignell has responded by saying Senator Edward’s comments reflect a division in the Liberal Party because the SA Liberals went to the recent State election with the same commitment as Labor’s, to maintain the GM moratorium until at least 2019.
He said his scheduled appearance at the upcoming rally would be the third March Against Monsanto rally he’s spoken at.
“It is a great celebration of SA’s non-GM stance and I will be passing on Senator Edwards's comments to the crowd,” he said.
“Our GM-free status has become one of our major selling points for local food and wine on international markets and remaining GM-free is the best way for us to attract top dollar for our crops and food.”