Gene Ethics pleads case for official register of GM sites

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 15th August 2008

Gene Ethics has disputed claims by the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) that they exhibited a lack of ethics when publishing the suspected sites of GM crop farming in Victoria.

Gene Ethics published a map of commercial Genetically Modified (GM) canola sites on their website on Tuesday in response to their concern about GM-crops.

“Gene Ethics presents its online map of commercial GM canola sites being grown this winter as a service to the Victorian public,” claimed Bob Phelps, Gene Ethics Director. “Our map helps fill the information vacuum created when Premier Brumby lifted Victoria’s 5 year GM canola ban and refused to set up an official register, worsening the threat of GM contamination.”

GM-canola was allowed to be grown in Australia for the first time this year in the states of NSW and Victoria on the back of advice from a panel led by Sir Gustav Nossal. The ban was lifted in the belief that it would provide an economic benefit, require less pesticides and increase the potential for more drought-resistant crops. The critics argue that they could pose health and environmental risks.

“Affected groups that asked for a register of GM canola sites included GM-free growers, bee keepers, contract harvesters, organic growers, seed cleaners, local councils, the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Local Governance Association, and food processors, ” Mr Phelps reported. “The online map shows farms where the news media have reported that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide tolerant GM canola is being grown or is intended for planting. The data is from: news reports that confirm some farmers planted GM canola seed this winter; and various reports that other farmers intended to grow GM canola.”

The debate over GM-crops continues to polarise opinion and has led to wide-ranging policy decisions from governments around the world. In the UK for instance, a public register has been set-up to show the locations of all GM-crop sites. This has caused concern among some GM-crop farmers and researchers as there has been a spate of vandalism at the sites. UK researchers called for the adoption of the Canadian system a few weeks ago, whereby small GM-trials would be exempt from being added to the public register.

The Victorian Farmers Federation has since highlighted their concern that vandalism may occur in Victoria due to the public broadcast of suspected sites. “The farmers and their families named on the Gene Ethics website may very well fear what these new actions may entail now that their names and locations have been listed publicly,” VFF President Simon Ramsay suggested earlier this week.

Gene Ethics now advise that they are working towards publishing a map of NSW GM-canola sites and increasing the data on their Victorian map. “Gene Ethics expects to receive more site data to add to the map if GM farmers comply with Monsanto’s Stewardship Agreement that advises them to tell their neighbours,” Mr Phelps added. “The Gene Technology Regulator publishes maps and co-ordinates for field trials throughout Australia so a similar register for commercial GM crops is practical as well as necessary.”

“Rural industries and land managers are worried by GM seed falling on roadsides during transport and pollen carried 5 km by wind and insects leading to market loss and more persistent Roundup herbicide tolerant weeds – wild radish and turnip,” Mr Phelps said.

Australian Food News would welcome your opinions on the topic of GM-crops. Are they a solution or a threat? And should a public register of GM sites be published?