GM hurdles loom large

GM hurdles loom large

Cropping
OUR CALL: Callington farmer Tyson Paech says having the choice to incorporate genetically-modified crop varieties into their programs could be beneficial for SA growers.

OUR CALL: Callington farmer Tyson Paech says having the choice to incorporate genetically-modified crop varieties into their programs could be beneficial for SA growers.

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WHILE the state government has signalled its intent to lift the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically-modified crops in SA, parliamentary process and recommendations from the Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry into the matter are creating uncertainty as to whether the motion will go ahead in time for next season.

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WHILE the state government has signalled its intent to lift the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically-modified crops in SA, parliamentary due process and a Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry are creating uncertainty as to whether the motion will go ahead in time for next season.

Select Committee members have received a final report on evidence taken from the inquiry and will meet to finalise recommendations in two weeks.

While it is anticipated recommendations will be introduced into parliament shortly after, the views of committee members are split.

Select Committee chair and Advance SA MLC John Darley told Stock Journal that he and Liberal MLC John Dawkins had "basically finalised" their line of thinking and that "the evidence (from the inquiry) was fairly compelling that farmers want to have a choice".

"We've looked at any problems with contamination of adjoining properties and we don't see a problem there," he said.

"We've looked at any possibility of contamination in the bulk handling process and it seems clear that it wouldn't be a problem.

"The matter of health problems that may be caused as a result of using GM crops - there was no evidence to sustain that argument."

Greens MLC and Select Committee member Mark Parnell said he would recommend the moratorium remained in place until 2025 and that SA's position on a GM moratorium always be reviewed at least a year out from the expiry of regulations.

Labor MLC and fourth Select Committee member Emily Bourke said strong arguments were put forward from both sides of the debate throughout the inquiry.

"Those advocating the lifting of the moratorium are calling for the right to choose the tools they will need to support their future farming practices and that future includes GM technology," she said.

"Voices supporting the moratorium have highlighted that the removal would affect the state's clean and green image and may lead to a loss in any market advantage that SA currently experiences in food and wine exports.

"I will continue to weigh up these arguments before voting on the recommendations put forward by committee members."

RELATED READING:GM stances vary as SA govt pushes on

Changes to regulations can be deemed disallowable through a parliamentary vote and Mr Parnell said his party would move to disallow the regulations when introduced by government.

"If the government don't introduce these regulations until December, the disallowance vote won't be held until February," he said.

"Farmers could be buying seed and they won't know whether the law is going to allow them to sow those seeds and that would be a terrible position to be in."

Mr Parnell was confident that a disallowance vote would be successful in the Upper House, saying if Labor and the Greens supported the moratorium only one other vote would be needed to disallow the regulations.

Mr Parnell also criticised the government's move to change regulations referring to the region the moratorium applied to, rather than table changes in parliament.

"Regardless of whether the moratorium stays or goes, the issue is too important for the government to just unilaterally do through regulations," he said.

"It should be a decision of the whole parliament."

Although the state government is not bound by Select Committee recommendations, Mr Parnell said its decision to proceed with regulation changes before hearing the recommendations had been disrespectful.

When asked about the possibility of a disallowance motion being tabled, Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said "members of parliament who are listening to what the majority of the state's graingrowers have been saying will not support disallowing regulations to lift the moratorium".

GOVT CONCLUDES SA CONSULTATION

WITH the draft regulations on the cultivation of GM crops to come into effect on December 1, the state government has completed its statutory six-week consultation period.

Public consultation meetings were held at Kingscote and the Waite Campus, while written submissions were accepted until September 30.

Mr Whetstone said the response to lifting the GM moratorium on mainland SA was "generally very positive".

RELATED READING: Japanese visitors urge KI farmers to stay GM-free

"Lifting the GM moratorium is about giving farmers a choice on what crops they would like to grow," he said.

Mr Whetstone said the decision was based on an independent review, which found the moratorium had cost SA graingrowers at least $33 million since 2004 and would cost farmers a further $5m if extended to 2025.

"We have also had extensive feedback from the farming and research community, who have identified opportunities to grow SA's economy," he said.

Arguments that were made as to why a moratorium was needed in SA just haven't panned out. - CHRIS PRESTON

Farmer Tyson Paech, whose family grows wheat, barley, peas, canola, lupins, chickpeas and hay at Callington and Palmer, said having the choice to grow GM crops would be a positive.

"We would consider incorporating GM, but we'd first have to find out the logistics behind growing it, plus the associated rules and regulations," he said.

He said the possibility of incorporating genes, such as frost tolerance, could provide big benefits to growers.

University of Adelaide associate professor of weed management Chris Preston attended the Waite consultation and was in favour of lifting the moratorium.

"A lot of arguments that were made as to why a moratorium was needed in SA just haven't panned out," he said.

Dr Preston said SA growers had been disadvantaged by not being able to utilise the technology, or even try it.

"As a researcher, I've been impacted in that I can't run farming systems trials with GM crops in SA - I have to do that in Vic," he said.

Dr Preston said farming and environmental risks had been debunked, but many people were "philosophically" opposed to GM crops.

"When people are in that position, providing them with more facts doesn't usually help - it tends to drive them further into the position they have," he said.

"We probably need to take a new approach and find some common ground, but that can be hard to reach."

Network of Concerned Farmers' Julie Newman was a farmer in WA during the lifting of the moratorium in that state and is a former vice-president of WA Farmers Grain Council.

She said there were minimal benefits to GM for growers, but big economic risks due to consumer aversion.

"What SA growers also have to realise is they're not getting all the extra charges associated with trying to segregate," she said.

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