State deadline looms to abolish GM Act

State deadline looms to abolish GM Act

Cropping News
WA Premier Colin Barnett (left) and Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Food Jim Chown (right) discuss genetically modified (GM) crops with Pastoralists and Graziers Association representative John Snooke in recent years as the issue of growing GM crops in WA is set to be put to rest in the coming weeks.

WA Premier Colin Barnett (left) and Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Food Jim Chown (right) discuss genetically modified (GM) crops with Pastoralists and Graziers Association representative John Snooke in recent years as the issue of growing GM crops in WA is set to be put to rest in the coming weeks.

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FARMING industry groups remain confident the WA Government will repeal the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act despite the end of financial year promised timeline looming.

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FARMING industry groups remain confident the WA Government will repeal the Genetically Modified (GM) Crops Free Areas Act despite the end of financial year promised timeline looming.

With just five sitting weeks remaining, one of which is earmarked for estimates hearings, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture and Food Jim Chown MLC is monitoring his party's commitment to the repeal.

"The government has prioritised the GM Crops Free Areas Act repeal and I fully expect it to be dealt with before the end of the financial year," Mr Chown said.

Since this pledge was first made in early March, WA has had a change of Agriculture and Food Minister from Ken Baston to Dean Nalder.

Also in that time, the Act has been overlooked on the Legislative Council's Order of Business on several occasions.

This follows years of promises from Mr Baston that the repeal would go through before the 2017 election.

Moves to repeal the Act have been pushed by farm groups on many occasions amid fears the legislation could be used by a future Labor government to re-introduce a ban on GM crops in WA.

WA Labor has threatened to use the laws to stop WA growers accessing the technology, if they were to be voted in at the next State poll in 2017.

Commercial production of GM canola was first allowed in WA by the current Liberal/National government in 2010, following successful large-scale on-farm trials the season before.

An exemption order was written by then Agriculture Minister Terry Redman allowing GM canola to be grown across the State.

Mr Baston previously described the Act as "a piece of legislation purely designed for prohibition".

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

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

According to figures provided by Monsanto Australia, the amount of GM canola planted in WA has steadily increased, with 86,000 hectares planted in 2010, 94,800ha in 2011, 121,694ha in 2012, 167,596ha in 2013, 260,000ha in 2014 and 337,000ha in 2015.

Current Agriculture and Food Minister Dean Nalder took on the portfolio in late March and admitted the Act had been on the agenda for several weeks but was pushed aside.

"It is sitting in the Upper House," he said.

"I'm keen to keep that one moving but there have been other priorities that have taken precedence over that.

"That's a broader government decision."

Mr Nalder said it was important to provide certainty on the future of GM in WA for growers and he was keen to resolve the repeal as quickly as possible.

CropLife Australia teamed with WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) earlier this year to push the government on the repeal following little action beyond an initial reading of the Act in November 2015

CropLife Australia chief executive officer Matthew Cossey said at the time the rights of WA growers to grow safe approved GM crops was under threat.

He said the government commitment to repeal the act had the support of WA's farmers and the plant science industry.

"With supply chain security at risk, farmers' crop planning well underway and a looming election, we cannot underestimate the importance of urgently securing farmer choice in Western Australia," Mr Cossey said.

"We commend the government for showing their commitment to supporting Western Australian farmers and are confident that the new minister for agriculture and food understands the importance and the urgency of passing this bill through the parliament."

Similarly, Williams grower Lewis Johnstone, who has previously met with Mr Baston on the issue while representing a group of local growers, said he trusted Mr Nalder to do the right thing by growers.

He said he felt the new minister brought with him a better understanding of the agriculture industry's need for GM crops in WA and the drive to push the issue through Parliament.

Grower advocacy groups WAFarmers and PGA have urged the government to get on with business.

PGA Western GrainGrowers Committee chairman Gary McGill reiterated these sentiments this week as Parliament is set to return next week.

"We've had no direct conversation with the new minister for agriculture and food on this matter but that is something we would anticipate speaking to him about after seeding," he said.

"I am confident that this minister understands the the imperative and the necessity of doing so (repealing the Act).

"He's already indicated that he supports the concept of the use of GM technologies and it's just a matter of getting on with it and getting through the process.

"I have confidence that he is inclined to want to do that."

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