Report joins GM debate

Report joins GM debate

Cropping
CROP TECH: Daniel Feder, Wolseley, and Jonathan Dyer, Kaniva, Vic, in one of Mr Dyer's genetically-modified canola crops. He says GM varieties provide outstanding grass weed control for their cropping enterprise.

CROP TECH: Daniel Feder, Wolseley, and Jonathan Dyer, Kaniva, Vic, in one of Mr Dyer's genetically-modified canola crops. He says GM varieties provide outstanding grass weed control for their cropping enterprise.

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THE state government claims its genetically-modified-free status, combined with overseas demand for non-GM foods and crops, could provide a huge economic benefit for SA.

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THE state government claims its genetically-modified-free status, combined with overseas demand for non-GM foods and crops, could provide a huge economic benefit for SA.

A University of Adelaide study, commissioned by the government, found there was growing demand in four export markets – particularly the United States and China – for ‘naturally healthy’ foods with non-GM ingredients.

In a statement, Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell said SA’s non-GM status ensured a competitive edge in those markets.

“It means our food producers can go into markets with a very clear non-GM message, which will help them demand a premium price,” he said.

Grain Producers SA, who want SA croppers to be given the choice on GM afforded to other mainland growers, said the report had not identified any price premiums being achieved for SA graingrowers to show the benefit of remaining GM-free. They said there were a number of agronomic benefits associated with growing GMs that SA croppers were missing out on.

“The government believes that increased demand for non-GM foods will provide a ‘huge economic boost’ for SA, but we are yet to see any kind of premium in prices for grain anywhere in SA,” GPSA chief executive officer Darren Arney said.

GPSA said organic, biodynamic, free-range and paleo products were also classed as ‘naturally healthy’ and those food production systems, and exporters, existed interstate where GMs were grown.

They are calling on the state government to release further data, showing there is an existing premium for the state being GM-free.

GPSA said the SA grain industry already segregates grain into different categories, like grade, variety and end use. 

With segregation happening interstate for organic, GM and non-GM grain, they said it could happen in SA.

Mr Arney said the industry’s ability to differentiate between organic, GM and non-GM means the GM moratorium in SA was redundant because of the industry’s stringent food supply systems.

“Producers need freedom of choice to grow crop varieties that best fit their farming system,” he said. “This means GM and non-GM varieties.”

Mr Bignell has been contacted numerous times in the past two weeks for further comment about existing non-GM premiums, but has not responded to Stock Journal.

University of Adelaide Centre for Global Food and Resources executive director Wendy Umberger said export opportunities existed for businesses who had the capacity to target sensitive markets.

“There is an interest from consumers, particularly in the US and China, in products that are naturally healthy,” she said.

“There is a perception in US and Chinese markets that products labelled non-GM are naturally healthy.”

Professor Umberger said labelling a product as non-GMO would require a traceability system though.

“Today, unless producers are selling into a certified organic program or some other existing food certification program, there’s not a system in SA,” she said.

Prof Umberger said SA’s moratorium could possibly make it easier to market non-GM products.

“But whether consumers in our foreign markets know anything about SA and the fact there’s a moratorium, that’s unlikely,” she said.

“Is it helping us in marketing these products? I would say probably not. It’s not hurting, but it’s not being taken full advantage of.”

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said the organisation supported the conclusion that “opportunity lies in promoting a broad-based platform of ‘naturally healthy’ products (that are GM-free) from SA with claims that can be underpinned by traceability and verification systems”.

“The report finds strong evidence that present and potential demand for SA’s GM-free food is strong,” he said. “A partnership of the SA government and industry working together could achieve a GM-free and naturally healthy food bonanza for the state.

“The report refutes the Productivity Commission’s draft Agricultural Regulation report recommendations to the federal government.”

BENEFITS LIE IN WEED CONTROL

CROPPERS Daniel Feder, Wolseley, and Jonathan Dyer, Kaniva, Vic, believe SA should allow GM canola varieties to be grown.

Mr Dyer, a Nuffield scholar, crops to within two kilometres of the SA border, and grows conventional and GM canola varieties, with major benefits stemming from the use of GM.

“Weed control is by far the biggest benefit and we’re getting great results,” he said. 

“We’re using Roundup and clethodim in our GM canola which, in terms of carryover for the following years, is a lot better than other herbicides.”

While Mr Dyer said he had noticed a price discount for their GM canola, the benefits within the overall enterprise made up for that price gap.

“Our main enterprise is wheat growing, where we need grass weed control options, and Roundup-Ready canola is just about the best we’ve found,” he said.

“We’re hoping to make up that price discount in the following year’s crop and also prolong the selective herbicides we use today.

“GM is just a technology and to arbitrarily say that one type of farming technology is bad and another one is good is ludicrous.”

Mr Feder and his family crop pockets of land on both sides of the border, from Bordertown to Serviceton, Vic, and he said SA farmers should at least have the option of incorporating GM into their enterprises.

He said the state could be missing out on valuable investment from seed companies, with many dollars directed towards GM varieties.

While the Feders don’t grow GM canola due to logistical and storage hurdles it would create, they have delivered the conventional variety into both SA and Vic sites.

“We take canola both sides of the border and we’ve never seen a price premium in SA,” he said.

He said claims the state was bonafide GM-free could also be misfounded.

“People can sow GM canola on the border fence and there’s only a small gap between that and the next property,” Mr Feder said.

               – QUINTON McCALLUM

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