GM rally stirs crop debate

24 May, 2014 02:00 AM
They must have the freedom to choose to grow whatever crops will deliver the best return

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.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


24/05/2014 7:56:28 AM

This statement,,,,, 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”. Its obvious he has not availed himself of the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Another individual willing to gamble the health of our children and grandchildren,,, the overuse of insecticides and herbicides is already showing up in the food chain.
Monsanto Shareholder
26/05/2014 7:33:58 AM

I would like to thank the world's anti GM activists for concreteing our monopoly position through their efforts. There is no way known on this earth any other smaller company can afford to jump through the red tape in front of them to bring new GM traits to market. It is the perfect monopoly where activists actually work for you. Keep up the tireless work. It is definately bearing fruit.
26/05/2014 8:05:56 AM

@silverfox: just because you read it on the Internet, it does not amount to a mountain of "evidence". There has been no scientific finding proving the harm of GM. The two laboratory experiments that made it into journals were later discredited by other scientists. Given that hundreds of millions of Americans have been eating GM food for decades, there is plenty of public-health data to work from, but nobody could find any adverse effects.
26/05/2014 9:54:52 AM

Morrgo,, here is another (growing) example of people searching out the truth and then taking action ,, "Oregon voters gain another huge victory against GMOs by banning the planting of all genetically engineered crops across Jackson County! _genetically_engineered_crops_Jac kson_County_Oregon.html,,, Seems their not too happy having GM forced down their throat and more and more people/nations are catching on,, Its astonishing how none of the evidence and actions of other countries Experienced in GMOs who R now turning their back on them isn't heeded by us here,
26/05/2014 12:18:41 PM

Silverfox: That has nothing to do with the "truth" and everything to do with a group of "organic" farmers who wish to limit what neighbors can do with their private property. If you personally don't like GM foods than I suggest you not buy them. Leave the rest of us to live our own lives in peace.
26/05/2014 12:52:24 PM

Testing is a wonderful hobby....testing for things that we know about. Can the pundits explain clearly how they test for conditions that they don't know or understand? Or do we just keep testing for the known and conclude 100% without a risk, then blindly follow the smell of profits with total abandon of any ongoing responsibility.
26/05/2014 4:12:10 PM

Senator Edwards beloved ACFPG is pushing release of GM wheat onto WA. And when those GM wheat trials escape and wheat shipments get rejected like the recent US-Asia fiasco with GM contamination of Oregon wheat, then what will you say and pay to WA farmers? Tell OGTR by May 28 what you think of GM wheat DIR 128 on or near your farm. gtr/publishing.nsf/Content/dir128
26/05/2014 5:46:53 PM

Silverfox: put the Oregan case in perspective. Jackson County has a total area (total area not only arable) of 750,000 ha and a voting population of around 50,000. Very easy for pressure groups to manipulate small areas. Being America we can wait for the lawyers to gather.
27/05/2014 1:08:40 PM

@fiasco ACPFG has conducted GM wheat and barley trials in SA and WA for abiotic stress tolerance over the past 4 years, check the OGTR website. No escapes have occurred. ACPFG is interested in conducting further field trials of GM wheat in WA to assess drought tolerance (DIR128). This is not a commercial operation but research. It is a shame that the SA Ag Minister, like many others, are unaware of many facts about the technology and how this tool can add value to farming systems. There is ample peer reviewed data highlighting this, see Ronald P (2011). Pl. Gen., Sust. Ag. & Gbl. Food Sec 188.
27/05/2014 10:17:41 PM

Morrogo claims there is no evidence that GM is unsafe. Would he like to quote any scientific evidence that demonstrates that GM is safe.. The only people who claim to prove it is safe is Monsanto who stand to make millions from these crops. The lived evidence is coming out in the US where folk are seeking out non GM food to help restore the health of their children , in particular.
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