Push to protect State's GM farmers

13 Aug, 2015 01:00 AM
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston (left) and Premier Colin Barnett are being urged to protect WA  growers' interests in growing GM canola.
We now request more certainty to ensure that we can continue to grow this valuable crop
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston (left) and Premier Colin Barnett are being urged to protect WA growers' interests in growing GM canola.

Premier Colin Barnett and Minister for Agriculture and Food Ken Baston are being lobbied by WA growers to repeal State legislation that could be used to cut-off their future access to GM crop technologies.

A petition and letter addressed to Mr Barnett, but yet to be sent to him, has called for a repeal of the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 to limit Labor's ability to deny the technology.

Mr Baston is meeting with a Williams grower this week to discuss the concerns of local growers.

It's understood the petition bound for Mr Barnett has been circulated in recent weeks mostly via email and has gained more than 300 signatures from growers backing GM crops continuing without political interference.

"We, the GM canola growers of Western Australia are thankful to the Barnett government for allowing us to grow GM canola in 2010 under an exemption from the GM Crops Free Areas Act of 2003," it says.

"We now request more certainty to ensure that we can continue to grow this valuable crop into the future."

With WA's next election inching closer, growers are becoming increasingly anxious that a potential change of government at the March 2017 poll could see Labor use the act to prohibit access to genetically modified crops.

GM canola was first allowed in WA when a change of government in 2008 saw then agriculture minister Terry Redman write an exemption for large scale trials followed by formal full-scale commercial release in 2010.

GM canola has also been declared safe and approved by federal regulators in Australia but continues to suffer opposition with political backing from the Greens and Labor, citing food safety or marketing concerns.

The South Australian government has supported an on-going ban on GM crops being grown in that State, despite the technology's support from the party's federal division.

The letter to Mr Barnett said it was well known that if Labor won the next State election, then its GM-free policy would make growing GM canola illegal the following year.

"The exemption that Terry Redman granted us on behalf of the Liberal/National alliance will be gone at the stroke of a pen," it said.

The letter also said GM canola had been grown on 1.1 million hectares of WA farm land.

"We are able to grow both GM and non-GM canola side by side and market them separately within the supply chain," the letter said.

"GM canola out-performs non-GM canola with better yield and higher oil content, superior weed control, stronger dry sowing opportunities and powerful rotational benefits.

"Farmers are rapidly adopting GM canola as it now constitutes 30 per cent of our State's canola crop.

"Furthermore, GM technology offers the agricultural industry an opportunity to seek out traits that mitigate the disastrous consequences of droughts and frosts.

"Companies investing in agriculture R&D will only do so when there is certainty of no political interference.

"A way for your government to ensure this vital technology is not prohibited for Western Australian farmers is to repeal the GM Crops Free Areas Act of 2003.

"We believe this action will send the strongest message that Western Australian agriculture is open for business.

"Please expedite the repeal of this act as soon as possible."

Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston told Fairfax Agricultural Media he was committed to repealing the GM Crops Free Areas Act before the next election.

He said there were several steps required to repeal an act "and we are currently working through this process".

"Once a crop is deemed safe by the federal regulator, I firmly believe growers should have the choice to plant those crops that most suit their production system," he said.

Mr Baston has previously described the act as a piece of legislation purely designed for prohibition.

About 12 months ago, he also indicated State cabinet had flagged considerations for a review of the act which could be repealed in light of party policy to cut excess red tape.

Introduced in 2003, the act gives powers to the agriculture minister to designate areas of the State where GM crops can't be cultivated, or specific GM crops.

It also provides powers to destroy GM crops and imposes a $200,000 penalty for recklessly or knowingly growing GM crops in restricted areas.

Ahead of the 2008 WA election, the former WA Labor government had enforced the act to help maintain a power-sharing arrangement with the Greens in the Upper House which frustrated many grains industry members.

In addition to the wider petition to Mr Barnett, a group of Williams growers have banded together to urge Mr Baston forward on the matter.

Williams grower Lewis Johnstone met Mr Baston yesterday to present a local petition to the minister.

Mr Johnstone said the common misconception that the Williams shire had an anti-GM policy in place needed to be addressed, with many growers in the district actively supporting and growing GM crops.

"Our group, predominantly farmers, supportive of GMO technology, was formed in Williams in November 2014," Mr Johnstone said.

"The group originated as a result of concerns that our community was being misrepresented as being negative and against biotechnology.

"A group of more than 45 farmers gathered for our inaugural meeting on December 2 to view a presentation and begin networking together in support of biotechnology."

Mr Johnstone said his goal was to encourage Mr Baston to push through his plans to repeal the GM Crop Free Act before the next election and present supporting statements from his group.

He said it was also important for him to express concern regarding misrepresentation of the district through the media and the associated negative comments about GM crops, specifically canola.

"We are strongly in favour of the repeal of this act and are encouraged by reports that the WA Liberal Party shares this view," Mr Johnstone said.

"Our group is highly concerned that if this repeal doesn't take place as soon as possible it exposes us to the risk of losing one of our most important resources in the event of a change in government in WA."

Mr Johnstone said a cropping system which includes GM canola was the most profitable approach to farming for many in his area when otherwise faced with weed burdens on non-GM crops and a return to livestock.

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John Newton
13/08/2015 7:46:10 AM, on The Land

Meanwhile the world is moving away from GM.
Bob Phelps
13/08/2015 10:35:37 AM, on Farm Weekly

So what? The vast majority of WA's 4,400 grain growers are still GM-free. The bleating and machinations of pro-GM lobbyists, and the 300 signatures on their petty petition, have no credibility. Baston and Barnett should keep the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003, to give all farmers and shoppers a say about whether WA's future should be GM or GM-free. Listen to the informed, clear voices of the majority, who want you to restore WA's clean, green, GM-free reputation. WA exports much of its GM-free canola to Europe, for years earning premiums of up to $56/tonne. Embrace the benefits of GM-free.
13/08/2015 1:31:48 PM, on Farm Weekly

Wait until there is a drought or frost tolerant wheat and then see how many of them remain GM free. You blokes have no idea!
13/08/2015 5:08:06 PM, on Stock & Land

Dream on boris, as it is you who has absolutely no idea that you are being deceived big time. GMO's are dead and buried. It is only a few individuals and easily persuaded politicians who are being sucked into the lies and deceit peddled by GM proponents. Read "Altered Genes Twisted Truth by Steven M Druker. The most meticulous compilation of facts that are extremely damning of the whole GM deception.
14/08/2015 6:23:58 AM, on Stock Journal

This is not about protecting the farmer,it is about looking after big brother. In he meantime boris we wait------and wait for promises to be fulfilled
14/08/2015 7:35:20 AM, on Farm Weekly

Ah yes Boris, that ever tempting promise of a magic wheat to solve all problems...and cause who knows how many others? There are no markets for GM wheat because the world has woken up to the hoax. GM labelled food is unsellable, and people want their food to be honest more and more. I think it is probably you who has 'no idea'.
14/08/2015 8:45:19 AM, on Farm Weekly

Really John Newton? Which world is that you are referring to, can you provide some evidence to support your statement?
14/08/2015 3:47:48 PM, on Stock & Land

GM is actually old technology. Science has moved onto whole genomic selection, gene editing and synthetic bio-engineering. GM has proven to be successful, there is no debate. Some of the comments here are hysteria and ill-informed sort like the anti-VAX rubbish.
14/08/2015 7:28:56 PM, on Farm Weekly

My gm canola has performed brilliantly this year in tough conditions. I have a company trialing a non-gm variety in the next paddock that looks poor in comparison. Why would i go back to a system that produces weeds and less yield when I can have my cake and eat it too? And best of all i can sell it any-day of the week, in fact i sold 100 t today.
16/08/2015 6:45:48 PM, on The Land

Significant misinformation exists or is implied in comments here. e.g. 1) GM technology is on the way out ( Newton , ggwagga) 2) farmers are worse off using GM ( Mug, Phelps,Hebe ) ( 3) WA has a clean green reputation to lose (Phelps) . In the context of the above note 1) that c. 600 new GM plant types are released annually for field testing- technology hardly on the way out 2) farmers don't have to buy GM - that they do shows they've found this is best for them 3)WA doesn't have a green free reputation to lose - it uses as much chemicals (fertilizers, weedicides etc.etc. as others


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