SPARE a thought for hard working grain farmers trying to make an honest living in South Australia, battling not just Mother Nature’s fickle hand and market fluctuations but also the wrath of political interference.
Despite the overwhelming scientific and economic evidence showing that it’s completely safe and economically viable and better for the environment to grow Genetically Modified (GM) crops the state’s grain producers only face the prospects of more political pain and dishonesty, despite who wins this weekend’s election.
And that’s in spite of GMs having huge potential for innovative research to develop new crop varieties that can help ease global warming impacts or improve yields and deliver human health benefits.
This weekend, South Australians head to the polls to decide if they’ll continue with a record serving Labor government that has extended a scientifically and fiscally unjustified ban on GM crops, in cahoots with the Greens, out to 2025.
That’ll mean at that time in seven years other significant graingrowing regions in Australia will have been producing the crop without any evidence of harm and plenty of evidence of direct and indirect benefits, for closing in on two decades.
One can only imagine the uproar that would send some media outlets and journalists into a frantic and furious editorial rampage if such an anti-scientific and nonsensical political attitude was being taken towards the issue of climate change.
The best South Australia’s farmers can hope for regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s poll is a political inquiry into GMs, post-election.
Talk about patronising.
Close your eyes and imagine the scornful media reporting and accompanying accusatory tones and relentless campaigning, if any government or political force in Australia was promising an at-risk group that it would conduct an inquiry into whether climate change was real or not, post-election.
But alas, we can only hope the microscope is turned the other way to explore in depth why an issue like why GM’s continue to be banned in states like South Australia, where the anti-science justification for it is funnier than a Robin Williams stand up show before a live audience, once you scratch the fragile surface.
Unlike the SA Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell or Premier Jay Weatherill, Grain Producers SA (GPSA) has shown leadership on the GM issue by commissioning independent analysis from Mecardo attacking the so called justification for the political ban; that being an alleged premium for producing non-GM canola.
The research report says since 2012, non‐GM canola at SA export ports has consistently traded between 2 per cent and 3oc below Geelong in Victoria and Kwinana, in WA.
In addition, it says France and Germany prohibit commercial GM cultivation and SA has not supplied any canola to those markets in the past three years.
However WA – the state where the most GM canola is grown in Australia – exported 1.16 million tonnes to those countries.
GPSA Chair Wade Dabinett said the research indicated the reasons behind the moratorium were blurred and as a result of Mecardo’s report, a comprehensive review into SA’s GM‐free status must be conducted within 12 months of the March 2018 election.
“The current moratorium on cultivation of GM crops was continued until 2025 based on anecdotal evidence of a premium and inaccurate method of comparison of prices between states,” he said.
“However, this independent and rigorous analysis across six to 20 years of pricing shows there are no premiums for the majority in being GM‐free.
“This lack of a premium, combined with the fact that GM technology has long been proven safe by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, means the moratorium has to be lifted.”
CropLife Australia CEO Matthew Cossey said the Mecardo report also found that, not only are SA’s farmers not achieving price premiums, but they also don’t have the opportunity to experience the benefits of growing safe and approved genetically modified canola.
“Recent independent data by Graham Brookes of UK-based PG Economics has shown that GM crop farmers in Western Australia, Victoria, NSW and Queensland have gained $1.37 billion worth of extra income and produced an additional 226,000 tonnes of canola that would otherwise have not been produced if conventional seeds had been used,” he said.
“GM traits in cotton and canola have also contributed to a significant reduction in the environmental impact associated with insecticide and herbicide use on the areas devoted to these GM crops in Australia.
“The state government’s baseless ban on GM crops means South Australian farmers continue to miss out on these benefits.
“The long track record of Australian farmers using different agricultural production methods alongside each other reaffirm that all agricultural production methods can and does work to coexist to deliver the best of Australian agriculture.
“There is no reason for the South Australian government to hold the state’s farmers back by preventing them from being able to competitively produce more food, feed and fibre for a growing global population.
“Whatever the result of the state election, the state government must act on the facts and evidence in this report and, in the best interests of the state’s farmers and agricultural sector, remove the unnecessary ban on safe and federally approved GM crops.”
But GPSA’s report is not the only credible body of evidence that calls for common sense to prevail and science to be acknowledged, ahead of political ‘science’ and bastardry.
A report handed down by the Productivity Commission in March last year into agricultural red tape found there was no economic or health and safety justification for banning approved GM organisms.
Did Mr Bignell read this recommendation in between fearmongering on GMs?
It said the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) assessed GMs and foods for their effect on health, safety and the environment.
“Scientific evidence indicates that GM organisms and foods approved by the OGTR and FSANZ are no less safe than their non-GM counterparts,” it said.
“The successful coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is possible and has been demonstrated both in Australia and overseas.
“This means that if there are any market access or trade benefits - including price premiums for non-GM products - they would be achieved regardless of whether GM crops are in the market.”
The report recommended the NSW, SA, Tasmanian and ACT governments should remove their moratoria - prohibitions - on GM crops.
“All state and territory governments should also repeal the legislation that imposes or gives them powers to impose moratoria on genetically modified organisms by 2018,” it said.
“The removal of the moratoria and repeal of the relevant legislation should be accompanied by coordinated communication strategies designed to increase public knowledge about the benefits and risks to the Australian community from genetic modification technologies.
“The Australian, state and territory governments, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and Food Standards Australia New Zealand should actively coordinate their communication strategies.”
But alas, GPSA’s battle against political garbage and nonsense continues.
In view of the weekend’s election, GPSA requested each major party provide their position on the GM issue with responses from Liberal SA, SA-BEST (Nick Xenophon) and the Greens saying they have committed to a review in some form.
The Australian Conservatives (Corey Bernardi) committed to finding out more from producers and Labor committed to continue to engage with GPSA on the issue; despite the federal party sharing a united view with the Liberals and Nationals that backed science, supporting the commercial production of biotech crops.
Before moving further, there needs to be a comprehensive survey of farmers' attitudes to GM
In the absence of any quantifiable data on the economic benefits of being GM free, the state has imposed a GM moratorium as a default policy position.
In reiterating its position on GM, the government has not cited any quantifiable data relating to social/health, environmental or economic consequences.
The Minister has repeatedly stated that the ban affords South Australia a competitive advantage in key overseas markets, making it clear that the policy is primarily concerned with marketing and branding.
To that end, the Opposition’s policy, if we are elected to Government, is to commission a high-level, expert review of the economic benefits of maintaining the moratorium on GM crops.
In relation to the growing of genetically modified crops, SA-BEST recognises the potential gains in productivity and viability through advances that can be made in crop yield and drought tolerance, for example.
However, we also recognise that farmers should also have the right to say no to GM and in doing so, need to ensure there are appropriate protections in place.
We note that GM implementation is an irreversible process, so extreme caution should apply before lifting the moratorium.
SA-BEST would need a comprehensive and independent investigation that fully considers and evaluates the risks and benefits including advances in crop yield, and details how we would ensure there are safeguards in place for issues such as GM contamination to neighbours, patents, supply chain exclusivity, along with evaluation of the actual differentiation on premium prices for GM vs non-GM produce.
The State Labor Government is committed to realising the global market opportunities for our agribusiness industries and we want to work with the grains industry to help them get the most out of these opportunities for their crops.
We consider our collective efforts are best directed at investigating ways for the government to assist industry understand consumer preferences, formulate marketing strategies for South Australia’s non-GM food and seek trade opportunities to get premium prices for our premium produce.
We recognise GPSA has a different policy position on this issue and appreciate receiving a copy of the March 2018 report ‘Analysis of price premiums under the South Australian GM moratorium’ by Mercado.
We will consider this report and engage with the industry to continue the discussion about GM food crops.
During debate on the Genetically Modified Crops Management Regulations (Postponement of Expiry) Bill 2017 in SA Parliament on 15th November last year, in response to the Hon John Darley’s second reading contribution, where he outlined his view that “next year I will refer the matter of the GM moratorium to be investigated by a committee”, I (Mark Parnell) made the following commitment:
“I am happy to say on the record that I will get behind his commitment that this issue needs to go to a committee of parliament. I think it is an important issue and I think we need to investigate it.”
The Greens will honour this commitment and support an Inquiry by a Committee of Parliament when Parliament resumes this year.
- Does this article interest you? Scroll down to the comments section and start the conversation. You only need to sign up once and create a profile in the Disqus comment management system for permanent access to all discussions.