THE PROPOSED bill to repeal the Western Australian 2003 Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act is a step closer to reality after passing the WA Parliament’s Upper House.
The WA Legislative Council voted 18 to 9 to pass the repeal bill, which will now be introduced to the lower house.
WA Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Jim Chown said the repeal bill had been tabled in the legislative assembly and was likely to be debated once Parliament resumed following the winter recess in mid-August.
If the bill passes the lower house, decisions on growers’ rights to produce GM crops in WA will revert back to the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), which administers permits to grow GM crops in Australia, rather than the State Government.
Mr Chown said he was confident the bill would pass.
“Absolutely I am confident and I think this will be a great step forward for agriculture in this State,” he said.
“It is not only good for the GM canola and cotton industries which are currently grown commercially here, but down the track for crops such as GM wheat and barley, which are at the trial stage at present.”
The GM Free Areas bill was initially passed as safety mechanism to ensure the introduction of GM crops did not impact market access for other producers.
However, detractors of the bill say it has created uncertainty in both the production and seed development sectors of WA agriculture regarding the long term future of GM crops in the State.
Nick Goddard, of the Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) said the canola seed breeding sector welcomed the news, which he said would create certainty for investment in Australia’s largest GM canola market.
“This just allows the biotechnology sector to invest in breeding with more certainty, WA is pretty well entrenched as our largest market for GM canola seed,” he said.
Duncan Young, WAFarmers grains section president, said the repeal act was long overdue.
“It gives certainty both to the breeders and to us farmers,” he said.
“A lot of farmers in WA don’t grow GM, but have indicated down the track they might like to and they want to know with certainty they can do that.”
Mr Young said GM canola had emerged as a critical tool in parts of WA, especially in areas where there are herbicide resistance issues.
“It isn’t grown everywhere, but it is an important part of crop rotation for some growers.”
However, Bob Phelps, director of lobby group GeneEthics said there was no need to repeal the act.
“The GM Free Areas Act has been very useful, it has worked well and those who have wanted to grow GM crops have been able to, nothing has been prohibited.”
“The Act, which takes responsibility to the Parliament rather than a single Minister, is more transparent and more accountable.”
He said his group was still concerned about potential losses of market access due to GM contamination.
“There is still a strong premium for non-GM canola and growers with any GM material in their crop, for whatever reason, lose access to that premium,” Mr Phelps said.
He said Mr Chown’s shadow counterpart Darren West had told him he was told he would lose $1300 in lost premiums in a single truck load of canola due to the load being contaminated with GM material before being reimbursed.
“The facts are the premiums for non-GM are real and growers wanting to access them need to be protected.”
However, Mr Chown said there was clear majority support from the State’s agriculture sector for the repeal.
“I just don’t see why the ALP are so mad keen against the repeal bill and against GM canola,” he said.