Lift GM restrictions, says Harper

10 Oct, 2014 02:00 AM
Australia’s requirements for GM food labelling ... are among the most comprehensive in the world

THE Harper Review of Australia’s competition policy has fired a warning shot at the South Australian and Tasmanian governments restricting farmers’ access to genetically modified (GM) crops.

A draft document of the comprehensive national competition policy review was released late last month and is now open for public comment.

Review panel member and Regional Australia Institute CEO Su McCluskey said public consultation forums would start this week throughout Australia.

Ms McCluskey said the four-member panel would gather feedback on whether the draft report was correct in certain areas, or needed changing ahead of its finalisation.

Public submissions will be taken up until November 17 and then the committee will adjourn and write a final report to be handed to government, she said.

“This is an opportunity for anyone out there to give us feedback on the draft report,” she said.

On GM crops, Ms McCluskey said the draft report stated that regulatory restrictions should not be imposed that prevent competition - but at the same time health and safety factors need to be considered by individual States.

“Following the introduction of the National Competition Policy in 1995, there was a concerted effort to examine and reform regulation that restricted competition - where the restrictions were not in the public interest,” she said.

“These regulations were subject to review for their anti-competitive impact.

“However, a number of these regulatory restrictions remain in place, including restrictions that prevent GM crops from being grown in SA and Tasmania, whereas they can be grown in all other mainland States.

“While the general intention of the regulatory restriction may be to serve other public policy purposes, such as health or safety, there can be a restriction on competition.”

The GM landscape

SA and Tasmania have blocked the use of GM crops, but NSW, Victoria and Western Australia have opened the door to allow the production of GM canola in recent years, citing confidence in federal regulators.

The Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) assess the health and environmental risks of GM crops and foods, in response to public concerns and debate.

The Genetic Testing Registry (GTR) can only issue licences for GM crops once the agency is satisfied any risks can be managed to protect the health and safety of people and the environment.

FSANZ is an independent statutory authority responsible for food safety and regulation that has so far approved over 30 GM products from selected varieties of soybean, corn, canola and cotton.

“Australia’s requirements for GM food labelling, administered by FSANZ, are among the most comprehensive in the world,” the Department of Agriculture website says.

“In the future, gene technology may be used to help reduce allergy concerns with staple foods like wheat, soybeans and peanuts and environmental allergens such as grass pollens.”

Ms McCluskey said the review panel’s general rule was that these types of regulatory restrictions should not be in place but the final call is up to individual States.

She said the panel believed it important there be an independent, transparent and thorough process of assessment, and had therefore recommended governments should review regulations in their jurisdictions to ensure unnecessary restrictions on competition are removed.

Ethanol in the mix

Another example of regulatory restrictions on competition, cited in the draft report, was the concessional excise treatment of domestically produced ethanol while imported ethanol pays full excise.

The report also cited the sale of fresh potatoes being restricted in WA but nowhere else in Australia.

Ms McCluskey said the review also considered collective bargaining arrangements and the need to distribute more information into regional areas, so small businesses better understand their available options.

She said recommendations were also made on Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act regarding the misuse of market power.

Section 46 is relevant to farmers that may have less market power, in their individual supply chain, in relation to selling their goods to limited purchasers.

Ms McCluskey said when drafting the report, stakeholders suggested section 46 needed to be changed because complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) didn’t result in action.

But she said the complaints often didn’t involve illegal acts or the individual businesses didn’t have the time or money needed to take remedial action.

“We said we think access to remedies is a very important factor here and we’ve recommended the ACCC does more to help small businesses in relation to access to remedies,” she said.

“But we’ve also asked the question, when it comes to dispute resolutions, what else can be done to actually help small business?

“One of the things we’ve put out there is the ability for peak bodies or industry associations to take forward a case on behalf of businesses, so the business doesn’t get identified.

“And if we do that, is there a way we can help and put in a mechanism so it’s not costly for them?”

Ms McCluskey said section 46 needed to deal with the impact of market power abuse on competition and not the impacts on an individual competitor.

“The law isn’t there to protect individual competitors so we’ve recommended rewording on that,” she said.

Victorian barrister Michael O’Bryan and former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson joined Ms McCluskey on the review panel that was chaired by Professor Ian Harper, an economist with Deloitte Access Economics.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

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


10/10/2014 5:18:58 AM

so a barrister, economist, industry exec and thinktank ceo say we should let it rip with GM? how about asking the buyers (or future buyers) of our products if they want it? esp if we want to be a premium market. It might not hurt to involve a few wide ranging scientists, such as nutritionists and not just geneticists or representatives of megachem. This whole process has flaws to me, big business is running this country through its puppet the govt with no regard to smaller businesses and their wishes.
10/10/2014 7:10:22 AM

I wonder if Deloitte Access Economics and it's related businesses does the accounting or audit work for Monsanto or some other GM company !!!! No conflict of interest Mr Harper ??? NOT LIKLEY
10/10/2014 7:57:43 AM

@wtf: The most reliable way of finding out what buyers think is by making GM foods available for purchase. Outright bans on their production is denying buyers a say. As for the rest of your 'points', scientific evidence is clear about the safety of GM. I am lost, though, on why anti-GM would be wedded to small business.
10/10/2014 8:30:59 AM

Better big business and consumer choice drive markets that ditatorship style government regulation limiting any choice. wtf, you are a very confused individual and seriously cobba I urge you to seek help because this constant immersion in conspiracy theories will send you broke. Its time to get some help. Farmers have choice at the moment and that is the most basic right in life, a right the founding fathers fought for.
10/10/2014 8:57:01 AM

I'm trying to find a person on that panel who has any connection to small business, morrgo. As I see it their meal tickets would all be paid by govt and or lord business. Most farmers are small businesses, would it not be fair if a representation (re GM) be given to them? in regards to the scientific evidence, what organisations have undertaken that? D8 u are forcing it on the consumer as currently is the case, if we have an opportunity to let the consumer decide for themselves shouldn't we ascertain if they want it and separate ourselves from all other producers over the world?
10/10/2014 9:56:11 AM

I think it is you D8 who is confused. Using the Coles / Woolworths duopoly as an example and the price fixing allegations ADM was involved in, I would suggest to you that the primary objective of business in a free market is to monopolise the marketplace. you are delusional if you think that the people who own this technology have your interests in mind, this is all about control of the marketplace and absolutely not about food security.
10/10/2014 11:09:10 AM

This is another shot from BIG BUSINESS wanting more control. The current GM products have been tested but not the ones in the pipeline and therein lies one of the problems in that in haste [$'s] a mistake will be made. That is not an unreasonable statement. However only a fool would deny that it is a brilliant science in the right hands. The control over the grower is currently unreasonable. If someone was responsible for escapes it would make for a more harmonious climate . Potential health benefits need to be demonstrated to the buyer.
Jeremy Lomman
10/10/2014 12:39:34 PM

Who are the people that SA & TAS growers have been prevented from competing against? The (small) reference to this in the report is ambiguous at best. If the intention is to make a case that competition at the primary production stage of the food industry is somehow linked to consumer choice, then that is a weak argument. The quickest way to go broke is to spend all your money making something, in the hope that someone will choose to buy it. Making what people want is profitable business. Market failure due to anti-competitive behaviour is not defined by competing differently.
Bob Phelps
10/10/2014 12:49:42 PM

Here's another beatup from uncritical backer of genetically manipulated (GM) crops, Colin Bettles. The 313 page Draft Report makes just one fleeting mention of GM-free South Australia & Tasmania, in Box 8.2. SA & Tas have exercised their rights to remain GM-free Zones, on marketing grounds, under Section 21 of the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000. All Australian Governments must agree if this sensible GM-free policy principle were rescinded. Every state can decide if a GM crop variety harms their markets and ban it. That discretion is a vital plus for everyone, including the GM states.
Hick from the sticks
10/10/2014 4:30:56 PM

Can we please stop bleating about market access? Canadaian canola which isn't segregated and is ninety five percent GM. Yet five out of the last ten years they have exported considerable tonnages to Europe. While in seven of the last ten years they have exported oil to Europe. In the past twelve months they have exported more than four million tons to China, that's more than Australia's total production. Also two million tons to Japan. Source. Canola Council of Canda.
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