PGA meets with Labor to discuss GM stance

30 Apr, 2015 01:00 AM
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PGA president Tony Seabrook said Labor's GM policy was
I'd like to think through a process of negotiation and dialogue we can get to a better place
PGA president Tony Seabrook said Labor's GM policy was "denying WA growers the opportunity to access some of the greatest technology advances the world will see".

PASTORALISTS and Graziers Association (PGA) chairman Tony Seabrook has warned the WA Labor Party that it is "living in the past" and will hold back growers if it takes its anti-Genetically Modified crops stance to the next election.

Mr Seabrook and fellow PGA representatives shared these concerns with Shadow Transport, Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Travers and Labor Agricultural Region MLC Darren West last week.

The meeting followed industry uproar over an ABC radio interview in which Mr West indicated Labor would transition WA out of GM crops if Labor was elected in March 2017.

While the meeting outcome didn't result in a change of mind, Mr Seabrook said positive dialogue was opened on the matter.

"I think that as a representative of the industry to think that in five minutes we're going to change a policy is a dream, but we're talking," he said.

"I'd like to think through a process of negotiation and dialogue we can get to a better place than having a brawl.

"They are willing to continue talking and if we were willing to bring a reputable scientist to the State, they are willing to talk to them."

Mr West welcomed the chance to discuss Labor's policy on GM crops, which hasn't changed since the 2008 election discussions, and said he was surprised to have only had the PGA request a meeting following his comments.

"It's good to have these discussions at this time of the electoral cycle," he said.

"The meeting was quite respectful from both sides.

"We understand more fully each other's position and we've all agreed to co-operate until a time should our differences become too great."

Mr West said the meeting did not involve complete disagreement on GM crops in WA, rather there was consensus on some issues Labor raised as concerns.

"We all share a general concern for the very real threat that glyphosate resistance could be sped up as a result of pro-GM crops," he said.

"We all conceded this was important.

"I hope the PGA left the meeting with the knowledge we're not like the Greens, we don't oppose everything, we have an open mind on the future, but we harbour very deep concern about Roundup Ready canola.

"When we were in government we kept the exemptions until more information was forthcoming and we commissioned some trial work about the effects of glyphosate in the field.

"What we thought when we were in government was that we needed more information and to be more circumspect before creating an exemption.

"Clearly the exemption was granted too early because no one thought about the consequences of the rights of GM and organic farmers and the right to co-exist.

"We have this awful situation where two boyhood mates are in the Supreme Court arguing about that and those were the sort of things that really needed to be considered before and we don't think that a lot of the concerns we have, have been addressed."

Mr Seabrook said opening a discussion with Labor prior to the 2017 election was vital for WA growers as the consequence of removing GM exemptions in WA would affect the livelihoods of many growers, including the PGA's Western Graingrowers committee chairman John Snooke, who also attended the meeting.

Mr Snooke, a Meckering grower, was able to present his figures on farm profitability since including GM canola in his program.

Mr Seabrook said he warned Mr West and Mr Travers their policy was "denying WA growers the opportunity to access some of the greatest technology advances the world will see".

"You're going to hurt agriculture and make yourselves look like a party of the past," he said.

"The Marsh versus Baxter case is not about growing GM crop, it's about causing a fault in someone else's income by bad practice, it's never going to be a definitive argument about growing GM crops."

Mr West said despite the meeting, his reservations of consumer safety with regard to GM crops were not eased.

"Remember, it's not up to the consumer to prove the food is unsafe, it's up to the consumers to be satisfied that the food is safe," he said.

"They have the right to be comfortable with what they eat

"Try as they might, the GM industry has not been very successful in convincing the consumer that the food is safe and the consumers still have concerns."

Mr Seabrook countered concern with consumer safety by placing reliance on the standards set by the national Gene Technology Regulator.

He highlighted further benefits yet to be realised by the industry such as salt or acid-tolerant plants as reasons to allow GM crops to continue being used in WA.

He said he feared research dollars would not be forthcoming to WA for such projects, if Labor was elected and enforced the policy.

"It's a silly policy and I said you're denying your party and growers by pursuing that (policy), because GM is accepted all over the world and as long as it is regulated properly it's going to be the great technology of the future and you're just relegating yourself to history," he said.

However, Mr West argued trials and research into GM crops continued when Labor was previously in power prior to exemptions allowing GM crops to be grown in WA and would continue regardless.

"We would never have lifted the exemption on commercial growing until we were satisfied," he said.

He said Labor was not against the growing of GM crops and would potentially grant exemptions under the WA Crop Free Areas Act, pending adequate research.

He said the policy was not set in stone.

"It is possible that in the future the position may change," Mr West said.

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READER COMMENTS

Bob Phelps
1/05/2015 6:39:49 PM, on Farm Weekly

The PGA are a noisy minority that does not even represent the 10% of WA's 4,300 growers planting GM canola. ALP policy should ensure the GM industry pays for the damage it does with GM contamination. A Farmers Protection Fund, levying just 50 cents/kg on GM seed sales, would provide for GM-free farmers to be compensated, without going to court. ALP backing for the majority of conventional and organic GM-free growers who have no come back for GM contamination & loss of income without suing their neighbours is essential. $40/tonne premium now paid for GM-free canola reflects shopper demand.
had enough huek
4/05/2015 10:36:44 AM, on Farm Weekly

Bob what a load of dribble, Non-GM crops are allowed up to .09% AP if a GM farmer affects his neighbours crop to push him over this threshold then the co-existence protocols have not been meet and he has be negligent and needs to compensate. This has not happened anywhere in Australia since GM crops have been grown. Why should A Farmers Protection Fund be imposted on farmers using safe technology?
Unhappy cocky
7/05/2015 12:40:23 PM, on Farm Weekly

You don't know what you are talking about Bob. Last harvest I got exactly the same money for GM and my non GM. Completely unnecessary regulation for a crop that is safe.

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