GM crops: the next major talking point of WA election campaign

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 20th August 2008

Canola

Genetically Modified (GM) crops continue to polarise opinion, with the WA Opposition indicating they will allow trials of GM canola and permit the planting of GM cotton if they triumph in September’s election.

The Labor Government has, however, remained steadfast in their belief that the state should remain GM-free, with Premier Alan Carpenter indicating a moratorium on GM crops will remain if he is re-elected. “I will not, in the next term of government, allow GM crops to be grown on a commercial basis in Western Australia,” he told reporters earlier this week.

Mr Carpenter’s fears about GM crops led to his call for clearer labelling and a halt to GM food approvals in Australia earlier this year. “I find it unbelievable and unacceptable that the national food regulator relies principally on the say-so of the GM companies when assessing GM foods as safe to eat,” he said in June. “WA consumers want and deserve to know what they are feeding their families and they expect foods containing GM are not only labelled as such, but there is monitoring and enforcement of the labelling.”

But Shadow Agriculture Minister, Gary Snook, disagrees with a moratorium, as he believes GM crops could prove to be one of the solutions to food security concerns. “Food security is emerging as one of the most important world issues, with the potential for our northern agricultural regions to play a vital role in providing high-quality food and agricultural commodities to satisfy both local and international food security requirements,” he said. “It is therefore it is vital that we start taking the necessary steps to encourage the diversification of agricultural and horticultural production in our state. This includes fast-tracking the progressive development of the Ord, beginning with Mantinea, and the development of the Gascoyne region. The Liberals will also move to fast-track several other key areas of agriculture including the sale and upgrade of current livestock saleyards and the planting of GM cotton and limited commercial-size trials of GM canola.”

The National Party and West Australian Farmers Federation (WAFarmers) have indicated support for the Opposition’s proposal, although WAFarmers President, Mike Norton, is concerned that the focus on GM crops may divert attention away from “more immediate” issues for agriculture. “The current focus on GMO’s during the State election campaign is no more than a smokescreen to avoid scrutiny on major policy issues of more immediate priority,” he claimed. “While WAFarmers supports the lifting of the current State Government moratorium on the commercial release of GMO’s, and will continue to lobby for this outcome, we implore the political parties to go further and genuinely address other important issues currently facing the agricultural industry.”

GM canola is currently only allowed to be grown in Victoria and New South Wales, after both states lifted their moratoriums earlier this year. Moratoriums have remained in place in other jurisdictions with further reviews to be completed.

To view the current WA ‘Canola Industry Biosecurity Plan’ please go to: www.agric.wa.gov.au/content/pw/ph/dis/co/grainguardcanola.htm.