Greens grill Baston over GM crops Act

31 Oct, 2014 01:00 AM
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Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston said there are approximately 4700 cereal farms in WA but the Department of Agriculture and Food doesn't keep such information on how many grow GM canola.
I am currently taking advice on options regarding the GM Crops Free Areas Act
Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston said there are approximately 4700 cereal farms in WA but the Department of Agriculture and Food doesn't keep such information on how many grow GM canola.

STATE Agriculture Minister Ken Baston has faced a grilling from the WA Greens over the future fate of legislation underpinning Genetically Modified crop production in WA.

Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren recently posed 15 questions to Mr Baston in State parliament, highlighting the 2009 Calcutt review of the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act.

The Act was identified in a new report released this month by the Grain Industry Association of WA as being potentially restrictive red tape the government could cut as part of plans to double the local grain industry's value by 2025.

The GIWA report said the government could repeal the Act and amend the Western Australian Gene Technology Act 2006 to align with or be replaced by the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000.

Farmers in WA have also demanded the Act be scrapped for fear their capacity to continue growing GM crops could become subject to an election outcome with a new Labor government or power-sharing arrangement with the Greens refusing to sign exemptions to the Act.

A change of State Government in 2008 saw WA growers able to access GM canola after an exemption was signed by then Nationals Agriculture Minister Terry Redman.

Mr Redman approved large scale field trials in 2009 and then allowed full commercialisation the following year, following lifting of bans in Victoria and New South Wales.

Ms MacLaren asked if Mr Baston intended to commission a review of the Act - as recommended by the 2009 Calcutt Review - and if a parliamentary committee would be invited to conduct that review.

She also asked if Mr Baston intended to repeal the Act without a review.

"If the Act were repealed, what law does the Minister propose would regulate the orderly release of GM crops and other organisms in WA?" she asked.

In answering the questions on notice, Mr Baston said the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) regulated dealings with GM crops in Australia.

He said the object of the Commonwealth Act was to protect the health and safety of people, and the environment, by identifying risks posed by or as a result of gene technology, and by managing those risks through regulating certain dealings with GM organisms.

Mr Baston said WA's GM Crops Free Areas Act was "solely based on marketing".

"I believe we need to question whether government should still perform that role," he said.

"I am currently taking advice on options regarding the GM Crops Free Areas Act."

Ms McLaren also asked Mr Baston how many grain farmers WA has and how many grow or have grown GM canola.

Mr Baston said there are approximately 4700 cereal farms in WA but the Department of Agriculture and Food doesn't keep such information on how many grow GM canola.

He suggested Ms MacLaren "direct the query to Monsanto" about the number of GM growers.

Ms McLaren asked if the Minister had noted finding four of the Calcutt Review that consideration be given to providing accurate information about the location of GM crops to producers who might be affected by them and to ways of providing that information.

But Mr Baston said DAFWA doesn't provide information about the location of commercial GM crops.

He said the DAFWA Sensitive Sites system was a voluntary registration process designed to identify the location of agricultural production systems "particularly sensitive to impact from activities on nearby land".

"A compulsory registration process would create privacy issues," he said.

A media statement from Monsanto in June this year said rapid adoption of Roundup Ready canola had boosted seed sales by 55 per cent.

"Australian growers are switching to Roundup Ready canola at the fastest rate yet purchasing a record 855 tonnes of seed this season," it said.

"More than 2700 tonnes of Roundup Ready canola seed have been purchased since its introduction in 2009."

Monsanto Australia managing director Daniel Kruithoff said RR canola was now "a mainstream agricultural tool for growers across the country".

"Growers are turning to Roundup Ready canola in greater numbers every year for the simple fact that it delivers them value," he said.

"The rapid adoption also sends a very clear signal that there is solid demand for GM canola in domestic and international markets."

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association's Grains Committee president John Snooke said he maintained support for repealing the Act and agreed with Mr Baston's statement about the government's role in marketing grain.

Mr Snooke said the WA grains industry had a proven track record of segregating different grain varieties, produced for specific markets or end users.

In August, Mr Snooke moved a motion at the WA Liberal Party's State conference to repeal the controversial Act, which he said was passed "emphatically".

Mr Baston also spoke on the motion describing the Act as "a piece of legislation purely designed for prohibition".

Mr Baston has previously supported a review of the Act to assess whether it's working effectively.

Shadow WA Agriculture Minister Ken Travers said Labor's position on opposing the use of GMs hadn't changed - but if the Act is to be repealed, the government must at least find an alternative method, or legislation, to properly manage commercial GM production in WA.

He says that would include dealing with any potential legal conflicts between neighbouring farmers and the proper transportation of GM's.

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Bob Phelps
2/11/2014 4:29:24 PM, on Farm Weekly

The discretion not to exempt a commercial genetically manipulated (GM) crop from the law is a plus for everyone. For instance, the Grains Group of WA Farmers recently voiced concerns over GM wheat research in the state as they fear commercial GM wheat would wreck the state's grain markets. A survey of Asian and European wheat buyers supports their fears as it found they would not buy a GM product because of their customers' objections. Without the state government's discretion to say no to a GM crop, growers would not have a leg to stand on. The regulators have never rejected an application.
emailannie
30/11/2014 4:30:20 PM, on Farm Weekly

What this article fails to acknowledge is that not all farmers want to abolish the Crops Free Areas Act. Most farmers look at the bigger picture and can see that it is just a corporate takeover of their industry.

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