LEADING WA farm advocacy groups are calling for co-existence in agricultural practices amid news a future Labor government would effectively expel Genetically Modified (GM) crops from the State.
The Pastoralists & Graziers Association (PGA) of WA, WAFarmers and the Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) has warned that banning any type of crop, traditional, GM or organic, would hold the industry back and affect livelihoods.
In an ABC radio interview, Labor MLC Darren West said Labor would sit down with industry to develop a long-term plan to transition out of GM crops post-election.
He said they would not demand GM crops be immediately destroyed or sprayed out but with the next election being in March 2017 he expected little GM canola to be in the ground at that time.
Mr West said Labor would seek to transition to a GM-free landscape in future, despite 1000 out of 4700 WA grain farmers adopting the technology, since its 2010 introduction.
But PGA of WA grains council chairman John Snooke said the take up of GM technology was significant, as was the potential benefits of future GM crops.
"Mr West is doing society a disservice by basing his ideological position for policy-making," Mr Snooke said.
"This position will be fought long and hard there's no doubt about that, there will be fierce opposition."
Similarly, WAFarmers senior vice president Tony York said maintaining choice for growers was important as the market had a place for GM, traditional and organic grain growers.
"Our industry has embraced technical and scientific innovations and improvements and that has been a substantial influence in keeping us competitive," Mr York said.
"There's enough history and evidence that co-existence is a viable strategy for WA to pursue.
"We absolutely believe people should be able to continue to choose to farm on a non-GM basis and we think there's enough buffers and precautions for that to continue.
"Any move to ban GM would be penalising the agricultural sector."
Monsanto said it was expecting last year's total of 260,000ha to grow by 40 per cent in 2015 or 430,000ha which would represent 1.16 million ha of GM canola having been planted in WA since the technology was first commercialised in 2010.
Both groups back the removal of the State GM Crops Free Areas Act, originally introduced by Labor, and support framework, safeguards and the decisions made through the Office of Gene Technology Regulation on a national level.
"The PGA believes that's all we need because the State act is not an act that has relevance to science, it's an act that the Labor party used to prohibit the growing of GM canola," Mr Snooke said.
With lofty targets of driving WA agriculture to double the value of the grains industry and encouraging a crop of 20 million tonnes annually through its WA Grains Industry Strategy 2025+, Grains Industry Association of WA chairman Sean Powell said all sectors of the industry would be required.
"We maintain a co-existence policy where the organics industry can operate alongside any technology, whether that's GM or anything else," Mr Powell said.
"There's other aspects of the industry that want to produce crops in other ways, but it can't be to the exclusion of any technologies."
The grains strategy specifically calls for the removal of industry red tape and repeal any State legislation on GM crops.
Mr Powell said while GM crop benefits currently sat with the grower, future waves of GM crops in Australia were set to attract the consumer through health benefits.
"Anything that impedes that is negative to reaching that target," he said.
"We're not about banning any aspect of the industry including GM but including the guys that want to go down the GM-free line."
WA Labor leader and Member for Rockingham Mark McGowan has backed comments made by his colleague last week, despite backlash from industry and Liberal representatives.
Mr McGowan said there would be a transition to a GM moratorium should a Labor government eventuate.
"We are not satisfied at this stage that the science demonstrates that GM food and crops are safe," he said.
"We will continue to consult industry and monitor the latest science on the issue.
"One thing I do totally support is better GM food labelling.
"The public needs to be able to make an informed choice about what they buy and eat, because there are extreme sensitivities involved in this issue."
But Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston said he trusted the regulation of GM crops through the national process and did not see a need for a State control on the matter.
He said he was working on a repeal of the current GM Crops Free Areas Act to remove any further impediments on the growing of GM crops in WA.
"I believe that, as long as it has been approved by the regulator and deemed safe, growers should have the choice to grow what best suits their system, be it GM canola or conventional varieties," Mr Baston said.
"We are all aware of the challenges that are faced by a growing world population, climate variability and declining resources.
"Turning our backs on technology that could help us tackle these doesn't make any sense.
"Should Labor revoke the exemption in place that currently permits WA growers to plant GM canola, it would no doubt have an impact on growers.
"In many cases they would need to alter business plans and change crop rotations.
"What is more significant, however, is the message that this sends to the wider industry that we don't want WA to be seen as a place where innovation and research into new technologies isn't welcome."
Agricultural Region Liberal MLC Jim Chown mirrored the sentiments of the Minister, saying the Labor call for a non-GM WA draws a significant line in the sand for the future of agriculture.
"There has been a massive uptake of this technology and 260,000ha was planted last year," he said.
"The greatest thing about GM canola is the agronomic benefits it brings to the current crop but also for future crops."
But Mr Chown said if the ALP - with the Green's support - were to deny access to proven farm technologies like GM canola, other farming pursuits that delivered significant economic life-blood to rural communities, like live sheep and cattle exports, would also be exposed to similar acts of political expediency.
"If Labor, as they have stated, are going to stop GM crops being produced in WA, if, or when they become a government at some stage in the future, with the Greens, one also has to naturally question whether they would also ban live animal exports and other initiatives that enhance the WA agricultural industry," he said.
"Agriculture is one of the State's largest employers and is a replenishable industry that's there every year and people only really notice it when things go wrong.
"And if you live in Albany, Esperance, Geraldton or all the communities in between, and there's a drought or heavy frost attack on our crops, income is short and people become unemployed, stress levels rise and the economic and social health of communities suffer enormously.
"Those things happen due to reasons of nature but this is a political act and Labor policy decision that's going to reduce the viability of those communities."
In Mr West's ABC radio interview, he called for GM food labelling and said more research was needed to prove GM crops and foods are safe following a recent claim by the World Health Organisation, that it had issues with GM food safety.
But Mr Chown said the scientific evidence which proves the safety of GM crops and foods was there for everyone to review, including from the WHO.
He said Mr West was confused about a recent WHO report on the safety of glyphosate which is used to spray weeds in GM crops.
Mr Chown said dozens of leading food and health safety regulator authorities in Australia, the US, Europe and other parts of the globe had endorsed GM foods as being safe.
"So where is the Labor party getting its information from?" he asked.
"The Labor party is getting its information from their friends the Greens and of course their stance on GMs is purely political but these types of political reasons should not overcome good pragmatic, scientific reasoning.
"Professor Ian Chubb - the nation's chief scientist - stated at press club event recently that people need to be well informed about GMs and science and he said, I quote, 'People need to know and understand the difference between an export and a ranting entertainer'.
"I think Mr West falls into the latter category.
"As a member of parliament I'd be very disappointed if he was telling deliberate mistruths.
"But I actually think he's speaking out of absolute ignorance and just like the entire Labor party, they don't know their backside form their elbow, on this issue."
Mr Chown said he believed GM crops were the future and "we must investigate the possibilities of what this particular technology can bring to us as a nation and a state".
Mr Chown said the recent Baxter-Marsh court case had also said GM foods were safe.
"They are the most scrutinised, peer-reviewed, scientifically investigated food source in the history of the human race," he said.
"Trillions of meals have been eaten over the past 20-years since GM crops were introduced in the US and Canada and no medical evidence has been produced which proves any ill-health has been derived for humans, from eating GMs.
"But the latest Labor statement, saying that to repeal the GM Crops Free Areas Act would be abrogating responsibility to a higher body, like the Federal Government, is absolutely incorrect.
"In 2000, the Commonwealth instigated the Gene Technology Act which empowers the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
"This oversees every gene technology that comes into this nation like crops, foods and medicines and is considered one of the best regulatory authorities in the world.
"I have no comprehension of where Labor is coming from on this issue but we now know that the WA Labor party has no real intention of supporting regional WA."