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GM cropping gets the green light in South Australia

THE South Australian Parliament has granted the state’s farmers access to GM crop innovations after passing the government’s Bill to enable commercial GM crop cultivation on mainland South Australia.

The passing of the bill had met mixed opinions from industry bodies.

GM crops have been available in Victoria since 2003 and the government implemented a four year moratorium, on two types of GM commercial products.

The Commonwealth Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) approved the commercial release of Bayer CropScience’s InVigor GM canola and Monsanto Australia’s Roundup Ready GM canola in 2003.

The OGTR concluded that these varieties of canola pose no greater risk to human health or the environment than conventionally bred canola.

GM canola is the first GM agricultural crop used primarily as a food crop that has been approved for general release into the Australian environment.

GM cotton is already grown widely in NSW and QLD and GM carnations and roses are approved for commercial production.

Chief Executive Officer of the national peak industry organisation for the plant science sector, Matthew Cossey, said, “the plant science industry is delighted that science and evidence has finally prevailed on the GM cropping issue in South Australia.

“The South Australian Government, in particular Premier Marshall and Minister Whetstone, are to be commended for their continued commitment to South Australian farmers and scientists by seeing this change through and bringing South Australia in line with other Australian mainland states.

“GM crops have been enabling farmers in other states and around the world to improve yields, reduce carbon emissions, use natural resources and pesticides more sustainably and protect the soil through no-till farming for decades. GM crops are beneficial for farmers and the environment. Now farmers on mainland South Australia will have access to this crucial agricultural technology.

“With challenging weather conditions and a changing climate only going to make farming harder, South Australian growers need access to every available safe and effective technology that can assist them to farm in a more environmentally sustainable way.

“For over 20 years, approved genetically modified crops have been grown in Australia and around the world, resulting in 183 million hectares of land being saved from full tillage cropping. This has led to improved water storage, significant reduction in soil erosion and native forests being saved from becoming agricultural production land. GM crops are responsible for savings in CO¬2 emissions of 27 billion kg – the equivalent of removing 90 percent of passenger cars registered in Australia from the road for one year.

“South Australian farmers’ access to and adoption of GM crops will assist with the challenges of drought and climate change.

“Farmers on mainland South Australia will now have the choice to grow whichever approved crops – including GM crops – that best suit their land and business model.

We look forward to seeing South Australia embrace this agricultural technology from next season and to seeing the environment and the farming sector continue to thrive,” Mr Cossey said.

General Manager of the Australian Seed Federation, Osman Mewett, was also in support of the announcement.

“For over a decade, South Australian farmers have been denied the ability to choose from the full suite of tools that have been available to their colleagues in neighbouring states. They have been farming with one hand tied behind their back.

“The GM crop moratorium has restricted the incentive for South Australian researchers to develop agricultural biotechnologies for South Australia. It has denied South Australian farmers access to innovative breeding methods and new crops both now and in the future, and it has banned the transport of GM seed across the state.

“The GM seed transport ban had a significant negative impact on the Australian seed industry, resulting in increased costs to seed producers and long delays from having to use other transport measures to divert genetically modified seed around South Australia.

“Multiple independent reviews demonstrated there is no trade and marketing benefit to maintaining the GM moratorium in South Australia. The most recent review by Professor Anderson found that the GM moratorium has cost the state’s canola industry $33 million, with no tangible trade or marketing benefit in return.

“To remain internationally competitive and meet the potential for future growth will depend on the South Australian Government’s continued adoption of policies that embrace innovation, engage investors and bring new technologies to market in a timely manner.

GM canola is the first GM agricultural crop used primarily as a food crop that has been approved for general release into the Australian environment. GM cotton is already grown widely in NSW and QLD and GM carnations and roses are approved for commercial production.

In 2004, the State Government concluded that the timing was not appropriate for the full commercial release of the two varieties of GM canola due to divisions and uncertainty within industry, the farming sector and regional communities about the impact of GM canola on markets.

On May 12 2004, the Minister for Agriculture issued an Order under the Control of Genetically Modified Crops Act 2004 (the Act). declaring a four-year moratorium in Victoria on the commercial scale planting of the two varieties of GM canola.

In May 2007, the Victorian Government established an independent Panel, chaired by Sir Gustav Nossal, to review the moratorium on GM canola.

The Panel examined information from public submissions, undertook discussions with a range of stakeholders and analysed a number of independent reports, including a detailed economic analysis prepared specifically for the Review. The Panel submitted its report in late October 2007.

The Panel Report made a well researched and argued case for allowing the moratorium to expire. It found there are no valid trade and market grounds to maintain a moratorium that prevents farmers from having choice about the type of canola they wish to grow.

On 27 November 2007, the State Government accepted the Panel’s recommendation to allow the moratorium on GM canola to expire on 29 February 2008.

Currently, all OGTR commercially approved canola can be grown in Victoria and no further Orders under the Act are in place.