GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROP MORATORIUM
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [6.05 p.m.]: I was horrified to hear today that the Minister for Primary Industries intends to lift the moratorium on planting genetically modified [GM] canola in New South Wales. This is a terrifying decision and one that will threaten the health of many generations to come. It will also destroy our international reputation as a provider of clean, green foods, taking away many markets from farmers currently receiving premium prices, all because the Government has succumbed to the pressures exerted by international chemical companies and noisy lobby groups. This decision takes away our freedom of choice and exposes us to a future where farmers will lose money and consumers will face very serious health threats while chemical companies will become obscenely rich. There has simply not been enough research to justify exposing New South Wales to this threat.
Overseas mice fed with Roundup ready soy experienced liver and pancreas problems. In America a genetically modified food supplement killed around 100 people and caused thousands to become sick. Farmers have reported pigs and cows becoming sterile after eating genetically modified corn. Workers exposed to Bt cotton developed severe and crippling allergies, and sheep died after grazing in Bt cotton fields. Is this the future we want for New South Wales? We should not have this scenario thrust upon us because of pressure imposed by multinational chemical companies. Public attitudes to genetically engineered [GE] foods are now universally negative. Japan, China and the European Union are removing the genetically engineered component from consumer products.
At present Australian is selling canola at a premium because of its GM-free status, while at the same time GM countries such as Canada, America and Argentina have seen their markets seriously damaged. We face the possibility of farmers being forced to bear most of the risks and costs associated with this move. The Australian Bureau of Resource Economics has estimated that segregation costs associated with the introduction of genetically modified canola would cost non-GM farmers between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of the farm gate value of their crop. Non-GM farmers would also be forced to bear the inevitable contamination costs. A Western Australia study concluded that contamination of non-genetically modified crops is inevitable, segregation is not practical, and identity preservation may be achieved but only at a significant cost. The study recommended that the non-GM market should not be sacrificed at the expense of the GM market, and the Western Australia Wheat Board said that genetically modified wheat in Australia will jeopardise our export markets completely.
Do we really want to follow blindly in the footsteps of the Canadians and the Americans? Widespread contamination of American non-genetically modified crops resulted in the loss of its $US300 million export market for maize, and Canada has lost its export market for canola. There are claims that genetically modified crops cost the American economy at least $US12 billion from 1999 to 2001. Our farmers cannot afford a disaster like that. The American and Canadian national farmers unions, the American Corn Growers Association, the Canadian Wheat Board, organic farming groups plus more than 200 other groups are lobbying to ban the introduction of genetically modified wheat. If one State government lifts genetically modified crop bans it will condemn the entire nation to genetically modified crops. Seed and pollen will cross State borders and there will be no hope of containment.
Both New South Wales and Victoria previously backed a national uniform approach to genetically modified crop marketing issues under the Gene Technology Act review and must continue with that approach. To date we have no mandatory system for testing, identity preservation, segregation, transport or handling, even though the Primary Industries Ministerial Council was directed to have a plan ready for public consultation by the end of 2007. Have the costs associated with introducing genetically modified products been considered? Increased costs of seed certification, testing, crushing, cleaning machinery, identity preservation, segregation, grading equipment, transport, storage silos and labelling will result. There is justifiable fear that these costs will be passed on to non-GM farmers, the food industry and consumers, who are increasingly opposed to genetically modified products. GM-free growers, apiarists and harvesters face financial ruin if they are unable to protect their products and markets from contamination.
What about the threat of herbicide tolerant plants? More weeds are likely to result from pollen transfer to canola's weedy relatives—wild radish, turnip and charlock. Why have Bayer and Monsanto refused to submit any seed from their approved genetically modified varieties for trials to compare the aspects of agronomic, environmental and safety performance against the best conventional varieties? What do they have to hide? The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator must review all new evidence on health, safety and environmental impacts of genetically modified products, plus the need to fully label all products produced using GM technology. Will GM-free producers be protected to ensure that there is no contamination of animal feeds? Will non-genetically modified seed varieties remain available? Will insurance brokers underwrite non-GM farmers' claims if their crops become contaminated with genetically modified varieties? There are so many questions.
In America it is claimed that 94 per cent of benefits from genetically modified canola went to genetically modified seed and chemical companies, not to farmers, for the first five years. We need to learn from these lessons and ensure that we protect our farmers, our environment, consumers and Australia's clean, green image. The Minister should extend the ban on genetically modified food crops for at least another five years to allow more extensive studies to take place. The risks are far too high.
Private members' statements noted.
[Acting-Speaker (Mr Wayne Merton) left the chair at 6.10 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.