Genetically Modified Food Crops
|About this Item||Subjects||Wheat and Grain; Genetic Engineering; Rural Industry; Local Government
||Speakers||Draper Mr Peter
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr PETER DRAPER (Tamworth) [12.34 p.m.]: I again raise a topic which I have mentioned several times¯genetically modified crops¯as we await a decision as to whether the New South Wales Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Ian MacDonald, will issue an exemption order and allow trials of GM Canola to take place in New South Wales. Despite this State being in the throes of a three-year moratorium on the commercial cultivation of genetically modified food crops, the prospect of these trials is hanging over our heads. The Gene Technology (New South Wales) Bill and the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Bill were passed last year and they apply until June 2006. However, the Minister is able to consider an exemption order once the New South Wales Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology has been consulted.
As I understand it, after consulting with the advisory council the Minister held back on approving a GM Canola crop trial of 3,500 hectares, but supported three smaller plots, of which two will potentially proceed. I am pleased to hear the Minister has exercised a degree of caution until the true benefits of the technology are known. But what about the true extent of the risks? As I have stated previously, I oppose the production of GM food crops in Australia but support the use of the technology in the cotton industry. It makes sense to embrace a fabric source that can be grown without volumes of chemicals. When it comes to GM food crops, my concerns are in relation to their impact on traditional crops, the retention of our clean green image on the export market, and the fact that we are venturing very much into untested waters.
Could there be potential consequences such as gene transfer into neighbouring crops, the evolution of chemically resistant insects or, like the environmentally catastrophic introduction of the foreign cane toad, the creation of an insect with genetic characteristics dangerous to native species? It has been stated that the GM component of canola—the only extract from canola used in human food—is removed during processing. I believe the production of canola could set a precedent and pave the way for GM soybeans and corn in Australia, the food products of which are varied and diverse, a virtual Pandora's box of unknown outcomes. There is a strong objection to the production of GM crops in my electorate. The former Parry Shire Council has since merged with the Tamworth Regional Council, but Parry took a stand against the production of GM crops based on the fact that its export markets, which demand GM-free product, would be compromised.
Parry's residents hope the new council, which now includes crop producers around Tamworth, Manilla, Nundle and Barraba, will seriously consider adopting that approach. I will give them my support. In March, the Victorian Government extended their moratorium on GM foods until 2008 in a bid to protect the clean, green reputation of the State's agriculture industry. The decision also appears to exclude large-scale trials. Tasmania is similar: it has a ban on the commercial production of GM food crops until 2008, but its laws allow for open-air trials on genetically modified non-food crops, such as poppies. South Australia has legislation that prevents the release of GM crops for the next three years except under strict conditions. Western Australia has banned the growing of GM crops altogether.
Should the trials go ahead in New South Wales, will farmers who already have to grapple with the uncertainty of droughts, floods, and locust and mice plagues have to take on board the prospect of genetic contamination? I ask the Minister how farmers can be certain their traditional crops will not be contaminated by the trial crops. And if they are contaminated, who is going to insure the crop against losses? Farmers and consumers alike are concerned. There is a lot of uncertainty out there and, like any product marketing, the industry will rise and fall on public acceptance. While the companies involved in using this technology do their aggressive best to oil the public relations machines, I note that a public attitude survey commissioned by Biotechnology Australia in May last year found that 54 per cent of people objected to eating GM foods because they felt the risks were higher than the benefits. I am certainly concerned about any degree of softening on the moratorium. As stated in a Parliamentary Library briefing paper on genetically modified crops in New South Wales:
There is not enough conclusive proof that gene technology is safe and there is no guarantee that scientists will not discover problems at a later stage with genetically modified food now deemed "safe".
That rings a very clear warning bell to me that we do not know enough about the waters we are venturing into. I have advocated consistently that we should err on the side of caution, especially with food crops, until all possible outcomes have been explored. Many trials are being conducted overseas. Let us have a look and see what happens. Let us await the result of the many court cases in places like Canada. I preach caution until I know more about this very serious issue.