FEDERAL Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has weighed into the controversy over South Australian Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell’s appearance at an anti-Monsanto rally tomorrow (May 24) in Adelaide.
Last week, South Australian Liberal Senator Sean Edwards questioned Mr Bignell’s appearance alongside the Greens and activist group Deep Green Resistance at the rally against genetically modified (GM) crops at Parliament House.
Senator Edwards also said the new SA Agriculture Minister had “an inflated level of his own importance” given food safety regulations were a federal responsibility, through Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
Asked for his views on the controversy, Mr Joyce took a veiled swipe at Mr Bignell saying “if you don’t believe in genetic modification then you do believe in spraying cotton crops 17 times with (the toxic chemical) endosulfan”.
He said the GM debate had to move on from the “religious” and onto the scientific.
Mr Joyce said GM critics had every right to be precautionary and diligent “but if you’re absolute, then you’re really stopping a passage to do incredible things”.
“Ultimately, is your desire for no form of genetic modification at all?” he said.
“And remembering it’s already here - it’s not like it’s something that’s not coming - we’ve already got it.
“But where does that weigh when it comes to feeding people?
“Even breeding is ultimately a form of GM, just over a longer period. It’s driven by nature but it’s most certainly a form of genetic modification. I’m definitely genetically modified from the apes from which I am descended.
“And so, do we just say that being ape is pure and back to ape I go?”
CropLife Australia chief executive officer Matthew Cossey said he would be requesting a meeting with Mr Bignell to discuss his views on crop biotechnology.
“I’d thought we’d allow the Minister to have time and settle into the portfolio because I don’t think it’s one he’s deeply familiar with yet and agriculture is a significant area,” he said.
“Innovation, technological innovation and innovation in farming practices is core to how Australian farming becomes long term profitable and environmentally sustainable.
“I know that in SA, like the rest of the country, a clean, green, environmentally sustainable agricultural sector is something that people are very passionate about.
“Well, the single greatest innovation and the core to that sustainability is technology like agricultural biotechnology.”
Mr Cossey said GM cotton had been a great success story for growers and industry in Australia by improving environmental and economic outcomes.
“The reason we still have a cotton industry in Australia, and one that’s environmentally sustainable which uses significantly less inputs like pesticides, uses 30 per cent less water, has higher yields and is now sustainable in the long term is because of GM cotton,” he said.
“You see the same benefits coming through in canola and you see the research being done by organisations like the CSIRO and a range of public and private sector companies, looking at massive health benefits in some of the research in GM crops.”
In March after the SA election, Mr Bignell publicly questioned the safety of GM crops in SA where there’s a long-running moratorium on commercial production, in contrast to Victoria, NSW and WA that lifted bans over the past six years.
“I don't want to be the politician like the politicians in the 70s, who listened to James Hardie who said there are no dangers with asbestos,” he said at the time.
“I don't think we know what the long-term health consequences are of GM crops.”
But Mr Cossey said he was hoping the minister would now take time to brief himself on the facts about GMs.
“I’m yet to meet anyone who, once they’re briefed properly on the facts, as opposed to the scaremongering crazy rhetoric of people who wish to just undertake some ideological battles, doesn’t eventually understand how important it is,” he 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.
“It is crucial for the success of farming and I think over time, once Mr Bignell gets fully briefed, he’ll realise that he’s not on the right side of this debate.”