Senators back GM crops

12 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
There is no silver bullet when it comes to meeting the need to feed people in the coming decades

FEDERAL Senators have backed a motion supporting genetically modified (GM) crops for being an environmentally friendly farming technology supported by scientific rigor.

The motion was passed on Monday this week as the Crawford Fund met for its annual conference in Canberra addressing a key theme of meeting future global food and nutrition demand sustainably, while facing the earth’s limited natural resource base.

Farming technologies like GM crops - to produce food with greater nutritional value - were highlighted as tools that can help resolve what the Crawford Fund described as humankind’s “existential challenge”.

Gerda Verburg, chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security and of the World Economic Forum Council on Food Security and Nutrition, told the conference the challenge of addressing food security and nutrition had at times been a minefield of polarising debates.

But she said the best solutions were often found when ideas can be combined and built upon from across the spectrum.

“Not shying away from addressing contentious issues in a multi stakeholder dialogue, like the role of genetic engineering, how to optimise land use, or how we can combine traditional knowledge with innovation and technology, is the only way to build consensus and truly create food systems where sustainability and profitability are inextricably linked,” she said.

The federal Senate motion was raised by influential crossbench Senators David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day and Dio Wang.

Despite the Greens having a long-held anti-GM policy position, the motion was passed without needing a division or debate over the potentially controversial topic.

The motion urged the Senate to recognise that GM crops have higher yields per hectare than conventional crops and therefore reduce the need for further land clearing.

It said GM crops generally require fewer pesticide applications and therefore reduce farming costs and the environmental impact of farming practices.

The motion also said further adoption of the technology would increase productivity for farmers and provide superior environmental benefits.

“There is a need to maintain an independent, scientific-based and evidence-based regulatory regime for genetically-modified crops,” the motion said.

Senator Leyonhjelm said GM crops had an important role to play in feeding a growing global population by producing crops that provide foods of greater nutritional value; especially in Asia.

“We won’t be able to feed the world and allow everyone in poor countries to enjoy the same standards of living that we enjoy if we don’t develop and adopt new technologies like GM crops,” he said.

“I think opposition to GM crops amounts to telling poor people in developing countries ‘you can’t live as well as we do’.”

'Irrational' debates

Speaking to Fairfax Media, Crawford Fund board member John Anderson expressed concerns about “irrational” and “indefensibly selfish debates” that ignored science and evidenced based decision-making, while “stymying” the progress and adoption globally, of technologies like GMs.

The former deputy prime minister and Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia co-patron said public debates about the use of technologies like GM’s and energy resources must be explored and dealt with “much more honestly if we’re to meet the challenge in front of us”.

“I remember it was only a little while ago that green activists wanted to tell us that GM cotton was going to destroy every food producing area in the country and everyone was dying of cancer and this was a great blot on the horizon,” he said.

“But now we hear nothing about the evils of cotton and we don’t even hear people complaining about the fact that Australian cotton is virtually all GM.

“The savings in chemicals, and therefore I’d argue the environmental benefits as well as economic benefits are huge, just huge.

“Now if those benefits are there for GM cotton, dare I suggest, and it’s fairly obvious, they’re going to be there too when it comes to feeding people in the future and doing it in a more sustainable way with other GM crops.”

Mr Anderson said Omega-3 was an example of GM crops that can assist with lifting living standards and delivering benefits for developing countries.

“We know that relatively minor areas, sewn to crops that are genetically modified to contain omega, can supplant staggering numbers of fish in peoples’ diets,” he said.

“That’s one avenue but it is being shut down all around the world and Scotland is the latest.

“There’s also Golden Rice and GM bananas but what about drought resistant wheat in Australia?

“Drought resistant wheat would make a significant difference for farmers’ production capabilities in some of our fertile but more marginal rainfall areas.

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to meeting the need to feed people in the coming decades; there are many parts to the jigsaw and GM is plainly one of those parts.

“But consistently we are told that we’re all cuckolds if we don’t accept the majority scientific view on climate warming so how on earth then does that fit with the need to accept the majority view on GM and the majority view from the scientific world is quite overwhelming indeed.

“I’ve heard two of the country’s most eminent scientists make a simple but staggering claim that we have many reported deaths from people choosing to buy organic food stuffs that are supposedly clean and healthy but yet there hasn’t even been a stomach upset reported from the trillions of meals consumed containing GM materials.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

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


Profit v Productivity
12/08/2015 5:25:44 AM

They still don't get it. Most farm owners are more concerned with their own economic situation than the food welfare of some country that couldn't run a bath. Their agricultural mismanagement should not condemn us to a life of over producing poverty.
12/08/2015 6:39:48 AM

We understand food production is vital though we require science to be of the utmost importance and politicians are not scientists and public health and GM requires more investigation.
John Newton
12/08/2015 7:00:13 AM

'It said GM crops generally require fewer pesticide applications and therefore reduce farming costs and the environmental impact of farming practices.' Not exactly the American experience Senators. The use of glyphosate has soared since the introduction of GM to the point where it is now eing replaced by other herbicides because it is useless.
12/08/2015 7:38:46 AM

What about GM Cotton John Newton ???
12/08/2015 8:18:41 AM

Roll up, roll up, the crony circus is in town, led by David the quirky clown. If u are a fan of the free market, how does patent protection (and secret extension of it via TPP) fit? If BT cotton was not protected by patent, who knows how the market would have responded? perhaps wool may have filled the gap and instead of growing fibre that land area could the feed the masses. What about no till, Glyph hit the market in 70's but it wasn't really affordable to notill until the patent ended. The flaw in the debate around GMO is the conflict of interest around the applicant proving its safety.
Mark Hoskinson
12/08/2015 8:25:01 AM

I am focused on GM Wheat which will be for human consumption. Australia is a small player on a huge world market and we have major marketing Risk associated with the sales of our Clean green Wheat of high quality. Let the rest of the worlds largest growers adopt GM wheat before we risk our markets and price. The Senators have certainly not got all the facts and it is not their income that will suffer the ramifications of their uneducated decision making. Risking Australian wheat growers Income due to being misinformed is treacherous. Get the facts first and discuss it with real people FARMERS!
12/08/2015 8:25:08 AM

U will refer to the independent science, how are they independent when they are done by unis who receive funding from biotech comp or their friendly foundations who pay millions to defeat labelling. If the longterm studies on weight gain are used on the US/Aust popn we should be healthy, but weight gain does not indicate chronic illness and or safety in the longterm. My observation is that the richer people get, the less children they have, has that being tested? This is blatant invisible hand David, how do poor people afford food? its money they need, not more food they cant afford.
12/08/2015 8:38:07 AM

You lot are fast losing my vote. You are buckling under to big business and false promises.
12/08/2015 9:36:33 AM

John Anderson is dead right.
Bob Phelps
12/08/2015 9:58:11 AM

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to meeting the need to feed people in the coming decades." True. GM soy, corn, canola, & cotton began in 1996, with Roundup herbicide tolerance & self-made Bt toxins. That's all! The promised GM products are unlikely to ever be commercial e.g. drought & salt tolerant crops, nitrogen fixation in grains, longer shelf-life food, Vit A fortified foods, etc. These complex traits use many genes that cannot be cut-and-pasted with GM. CSIRO's Dr Richards says: "GM technologies are generally only suitable for the single gene traits, not complex multi-genic ones.
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