THE Australian Greens say they won’t give the green light to Genetically Modified crops – or any other version of GM’s – despite widespread support for biotechnology amongst Australian farming groups and the scientific community.
Leading farm groups and plant scientists back GM technology development, with its potential to generate varieties with drought and even frost tolerance, or grow in soils where virtually nothing exists.
Citing feedback from her “listening tour” of regional Australia, launched when she replaced Bob Brown in April, Australian Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said she was “reinforced in the view” about not allowing GM’s in food chains.
“I think when the community comes to realise that there are real health issues associated with GMOs, not to mention organic growers actually being put out of business by the fact that there is contamination of organic certified areas as a result of GM trials, that’s going to make people even more frustrated,” she said.
But Senator Milne declined to say if any of the health concerns with GM’s were actually proven, when pressed by Fairfax Agricultural Media.
“GMO is under the microscope in all sorts of ways and they change on a regular basis in terms of what people are trying to put together in a GMO product,” she said.
“What I can say though is the contamination issues are real.
“I’ve just been in WA where I met with an organic grower who has now had his certification destroyed because of contamination from a GMO crop which has blown onto his properly, that will end up in the courts.
“And what Australian growers need to realise is that the, all the responsibility and all the costs are now on the non-GMO farmers who have to clean up after the contamination from the GMO risks.
“The health issues change regularly as the types of technology that are being experimented with also change and you only have to go and look at the literature to see that there are extensive and expansive claims on all sides.”
But Science & Technology Australia CEO Anna-Maria Arabia said GM’s were one clear example of where a more scientific approach to politics would benefit everyone.
Her group organised the “science meets Canberra week”, where more than 200 of Australia’s top scientists held meetings urging Australia’s leaders to pay as much attention to science when making decisions, as they do to economics and short-term political considerations.
The scientists argued for; a commitment to testing major policies against scientific evidence; support from all political parties to protect the research budget; and greater engagement between scientists and parliament.
Ms Arabia said “Politics and science sometimes seem worlds apart and that is to the detriment of both disciplines and the nation in general”.
“An evidence-based approach to policy development increases impact and ensures cost-effectiveness,” she said.
“Yet there are a number of policy challenges in Australia where the science is either being ignored or the vast divide between policy and science is letting the nation down.
“Politics, economics, and community sentiment do play a role in decision making but this should not be at the exclusion of the scientific evidence base.”
Ms Arabia she said robust scientific results are produced through a rigorous process which scientists adhere to - the “gold standard” is the results published in peer reviewed journals.
She said scientific evidence was being ignored by both sides of politics in a range of issues, not just the Greens on GM’s.
She said Greenpeace’s anti-GM campaign backfired significantly when activists “razored” GM wheat trials at CSIRO in Canberra last year.
“If you don’t like the science you don’t burn the laboratory,” she said.
“You need the research to happen to be able to continue building the science and to keep building the evidence base, using the tried and tested peer reviewed methods.
“Greenpeace lost a lot of credibility last year and membership because of that protest.
“Why – because they burnt the laboratory before the results came out.
“They didn’t actually burn the laboratory but they razored the crops.
“The trials were not about Monsanto pursuing a political agenda or any bias at CSIRO; it was about scientists acting without fear or favour.
“The research was about crops that provide health benefits for bowel cancer.
“But even if they weren’t (about health benefits), it’s about letting the science proceed, to find results that inform the debate with facts, not emotions, and that then informs decision.”
This week Senator Milne also quoted a CSIRO report on the “huge impacts” on Australia's biodiversity and plant and animal species, resulting form accelerating climate change.
“The report makes it clear that as climate change actually starts to bite all around Australia we’re going to see really significant shifts in the landscape, in species going to extinction,” she said.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media earlier this year, Federal Nationals Leader Warren Truss said for Australian agriculture to play an important role feeding the world’s exploding population base in years ahead, new technologies like GM crops must be embraced.
Mr Truss said Australian farmers and the agricultural industry had been progressive with implementing and adopting new animal breeds and improving genetics right across the scene.
But the same level of progress has not been made with plant technology.
“The proposed or claimed disasters or environmental catastrophes that GM’s were supposedly going to create have not actually occurred,” he said.
“They are not growing 10 foot taller than us or anything like that.
“The reality is we’ve been resisting technology that other countries have embraced for many years and we’re getting left behind.”
Anti-GM groups continued attacks on the technology this week, with an “Occupy Monsanto” protest held in Melbourne.
The protest was timed to coincide with more than 70 other “Target Monsanto” protests worldwide but the local event only attracted a small crowd.
The protest was also expected to include week-long sittings in St Louis Missouri US where the Monsanto Corporation is headquartered.