Review puts SA's GM ban on shaky ground

Review puts SA's GM ban on shaky ground


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With so many anti-GM arguments rejected in Kym Anderson's review, is SA's moratorium on GM crops running on borrowed time?

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KYM Anderson's Independent Review of the South Australian GM Food Crop Moratorium report was released this week, and is far stronger in its findings than I'd expected. 

Often with reports such as these, some findings will be a bit 'on the fence', unwilling to draw black and white conclusions and more inclined to reflect the diversity of public opinion on such issues. Emeritus Professor Anderson's report does no such thing.

He found that not only has the GM moratorium cost SA canola growers $33 million since 2004, it could cost a further $5m by 2025. He also uncovered no evidence of price premiums for SA grain versus non-GM interstate offerings, confirmed that successful coexistence had been achieved in other jurisdictions, and even blamed the moratorium for discouraging research and development investment in SA.

I found his cost-benefit analysis particularly interesting. He calculates that permitting the cultivation of Roundup Ready GM canola would result in a 'small' gain of $38 a hectare, taking into account GM canola's 10 per cent higher average yield offset by a 5pc non-GM price premium.

He then goes on to calculate the potential profit boost should omega-3 canola yields match existing GM varieties, while also attracting a 5pc premium on non-GM varieties due to their improved nutritional content.

If both occur, Prof Anderson estimates the gross margin difference could surge from $38/ha to $134/ha.

While the gross margin figures are eye-opening, many producers' support for lifting the ban is based on more long-term thinking about the sustainability of their farming operations.

It's not just about how a certain crop can make them more money in one season, but rather how having the choice to use GM crops might provide them another option to add to their cropping rotations to help avoid herbicide resistance or get problem weeds under control. An option that can also lead to increased yields will be extra enticing.

Should the ban be lifted, I hardly expect to see the countryside covered in great swathes of GM canola. Canola has a specific place in cropping rotations and adding GM varieties to the mix won't necessarily change this. 

But when all the arguments mounted by GM-free advocates have been so completely dismissed in the review, I can't help but think the moratorium is running on borrowed time.

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