Plant science group welcomes call for GM crop inquiry in Australia

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th December 2013

Plant science group CropLife has welcomed calls from Independent Senator Nick Xenophon for an inquiry into the post-commercialisation impacts of existing regulation Genetically Modified (GM) crops.

Senator Xenophon has announced that he will move for a Senate Inquiry into the impact of GM foods in Australia, including a review of the existing legislation and regulations.

Senator Xenophon said his move came after the case of Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who claims he lost his organic certification when 70 per cent of his farm was contaminated by GM canola after his neighbour growing it in 2010. The landmark trial is due before the Western Australian Supreme Court in 2014.

“This is more than just about our ‘clean’ image,” Senator Xenophon said. “Put simply, this is all about who’s going to pay for GM crop contamination,” he said.

Senator Xenophon — who has long campaigned on this issue — will launch a website produced by the Safe Food Foundation, as well as petition for the review.

“The truth is, we really don’t know what effect  these crops are having across the country as no one’s really looked into it,” Senator Xenophon said. “That’s why we need to find out whether the current laws are doing their job, who’s actually paying for contamination and any losses incurred from that, as well as health impacts on the environment and on humans,” he said.

CropLife says inquiry would “affirm public confidence”

CropLife said such an inquiry, if “genuine”, would “affirm public confidence” in the regulatory system and provide an opportunity for the official record to reflect the “significant agronomic and environmental benefits GM cotton and canola have brought to Australian farmers”.

“The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) assesses each and every human health and environmental risk that may be posed by a new GM crop before it can be licenced and commercially grown in Australia,” said Matthew Cossey, CropLife CEO. Field trials are monitored after harvest and any risks the crop may pose are rigorously assessed,” he said.

“To date, all GM crops that have been approved for commercial release in Australia have been deemed as safe as their conventional counterparts,” Mr Cossley said.

CropLife said some of the issues raised by Senator Xenophon and anti-GM activists about farmer conflict in Western Australia were “important issues for Australian agriculture”.

“However, instead of seeking to escalate conflict between farmers, it would be far more productive if Senator Xenophon examined the regulatory system at the heart of this entirely unnecessary conflict,” Mr Cossley said. “Conflict between farmers caused entirely by standards out of step with the rest of the world is something that policy makers and the agricultural sector as a whole should be working hard to avoid and address,” he said.

Different farming methods can co-exist

CropLife said organic, conventional and modern farming systems “can exist side-by-side in Australia as they do in the rest of the world”.

“This is the first case of its kind and it is taking place in Australia for a reason,” Mr Cossley said. “Australia’s organic standards are out of step with those in the European Union and the rest of the world. The current organic standards in Australia are out of step with the EU and North America, and in fact the rest of the global agricultural community. This introduces avoidable complications and the potential for unnecessary conflict between farming neighbours,” he said.

“Perhaps the energy of those interested in further both the organic and broader agricultural sectors may be better spent looking to fix bad regulations, rather than add heat to an entirely unnecessary and falsely constructed conflict,” Mr Cossley said.

Senator Xenophon will call for an inquiry into GM foods