Rally pleads for council GM-free areas

Rally pleads for council GM-free areas

Cropping
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There is exactly one month until the state government will determine the success of applications from local councils looking to retain the moratorium on genetically-modified crops, with calls being made for all applications to be approved.

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There is exactly one month until the state government will determine the success of applications from local councils looking to retain the moratorium on genetically-modified crops, with calls being made for all applications to be approved.

On Tuesday, about 70 people attended a rally on the steps of Parliament House, urging Primary Industries Minister David Basham to honour all council requests to remain GM-free.

In addition, a petition from the Keep SA Crops GM-Free Coalition, urging the Minister to honour council requests, has so far gained 300 signatures and hundreds more online, since launching on September 25.

Since the passing of the Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill 2019 on May 13, which lifts the GM moratorium on mainland SA, councils have had six months to apply to remain GM-free areas.

Of the 68 local councils (excluding Kangaroo Island, where the GM moratorium will remain in place), 10 have submitted applications.

Attendees at the rally were adamant that councils should have to apply to seek permission to grow GM crops in their areas, rather than having to provide evidence to successfully maintain a GM-free status.

Mr Basham did not attend the rally, but said he would be led by recommendations from the GM Crop Advisory Committee when assessing GM-free requests.

He also said council applications would be assessed in accordance with section 5A of the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004, which states that council areas would only be able to remain GM-free "for marketing purposes".

Requests based on ethics, matters of human health, and environmental impacts would not be considered.

"As outlined in the act, only applications demonstrating an economic benefit for a local government area remaining GM-free can be considered," he said.

September 30 marked the recommended deadline for council applications, with further requests only considered if time is available before the statutory deadline of November 15.

Opposition primary industries spokesperson Clare Scriven was not present at the rally, but agreed that each council application needed to be considered on individual circumstances.

Grain Producers SA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes is "strongly encouraging" Mr Basham to reject all GM-free requests by councils.

"To accept the applications would be to explicitly find that there is, somehow, a sensitivity unique to SA production systems, which is threatened by the mere lawful presence of approved GM varieties in other production systems and farms," she said.

"Our policy position on this issue seeks to enable the use of technology within the cropping sector, in line with all other mainland states."

'Arc of green' - a powerful economic tool for growers

HOPE: Graham Brookman

HOPE: Graham Brookman

Graham Brookman, The Food Forest, Gawler, was hopeful there would be a ring of GM-free councils surrounding Adelaide, and was of the belief that GM-free products would attract better prices.

"To say there are no premiums (for GM-free products) is rubbish. SA farmers annually provide details to their grain handlers on the geographic coordinates of their paddocks in which non-GM canola is grown, as part of quality assurance requirements," he said.

Limited opportunity for arguments to be voiced

CROSS: Monika Fiebig.

CROSS: Monika Fiebig.

Golden Grove organic vegetable grower Monika Fiebig, Monika's Organics, said the government had not provided enough direction to local councils about how to run public consultations.

"The councils didn't understand the process enough, and so many didn't run consultations," she said.

"GM applies to all people in all councils, and consumers need to be given the privilege of a public consultation to have their say."

Contamination poses a major threat to croppers

RISKY: Bob Mackley.

RISKY: Bob Mackley.

Farmer Bob Mackley, Duchembegarra, Vic, said problems associated with GM contamination into non-GM grain could potentially "spiral out of control".

"In WA, if you claim GM-free status, and a handler finds a trace in your grain delivery, you are liable for the entire lot in the silo being downgraded," he said.

"In Vic, there are now three sites that receive GM canola - that's how badly it's accepted by the market. A lot of the downsides of GM are masked."

SA'S GM TIMELINE

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