Burke heads to WA to plead case for GM food

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 8th July 2008

Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke has begun his WA tour and plans to discuss the future of GM food production in Australia with key members of the WA State Government.

The decision to discuss GM foods with the WA Government comes following concerns raised by WA Premier Alan Carpenter last month.

Mr Carpenter called for compulsory labelling of foods that contain Genetically Modified (GM) ingredients and an immediate halt to the approval of all GM foods in Australia until more is known about the safety of eating them.

Mr Carpenter believes Australia’s national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), should not approve any more foods for human consumption until it introduced independent scientific trials to determine the safety of GM foods. “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. “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.”

“This is not the case currently in Australia – no-one does any GM labelling checks, so foods are either unlabelled or not required to be labelled.”

Mr Kim Chance, WA Minister for Agriculture and Food, and Jim McGinty, WA Health Minister, also reported last month that they would express their fears about GM food via letters to their Federal counterparts. “There is a lack of independent information about the performance of GM canola in Australian growing conditions and evidence of strong rejection by consumers, both in Australia and in important overseas markets,” Mr Chance claimed. “Until these issues are resolved, the only responsible course by any government is to maintain a very cautious approach to the technology.”

With climate change a worrying issue for the future of Australia’s food production Mr Burke has gone to WA to attempt to appease the concerns of the State Government. He believes that the current climate dictates that it “is an increasingly difficult argument” to dispute the benefits of GM food. “I’ve said for some time now that I do believe that genetically modified crops will provide one piece of the jigsaw in dealing with climate change,” he told the ABC. “But I’m still hopeful that those decisions will be sorted out between the growers and the governments of WA and South Australia in particular.”

Mr Burke yesterday announced a $46.2 million Climate Change Research Program designed to ensure the future of primary industries in Australia. “The Rudd Government is serious about addressing the challenge of climate change and working with our primary industries to prepare them for the future,” Mr Burke stated. “Research and development will be essential to boost productivity and global competitiveness, while ensuring our primary industries are resilient in the long-term.”

Many leading Australian chefs signed a charter in May opposing GM food in the wake of the allowance for Victorian and NSW farmers to grow GM canola. The chefs are against using GM food in their restaurants and the charter indicates concern that current laws will allow food with GM canola to appear on supermarket shelves without a label indicating that the product contains GM ingredients.

The GM issue is likely to cause heated debate in the coming months as those currently ‘sitting on the fence’ begin to form an opinion.

Critics of GM food argue, amid fear that they could pose health and environmental risks, that there is enough food in the word without the need to take unnecessary risks. Advocates, on the other hand, believe they are a suitable solution to help feed the growing global population.