This paper focusses on genetically modified crops (GM crops), and in
particular the marketing of these crops. GM crops have been available since
1995, and the adoption of these has been most dramatic in north and south
America. With the commencement of commercial plantings in the mid-1990s, the
global area under GM cultivation has grown to 58.7 million hectares by 2002
(pages 1 – 4).
Of the four major GM crops (soybeans, cotton, canola and corn), Australia is
a major grower of cotton and canola. To date, only five licences for the
commercial release of GM plants have been granted in Australia. These are for
two varieties of cotton, two varieties of carnations, and in July 2003, one
variety of canola. In 2001, 33 percent of Australia’s cotton crop was GM
– the maximum amount permitted by regulations.
Some arguments for and against the introduction of GM crops are canvassed
(pages 4 – 7), as is the regulatory environment for GMOs in Australia
(pages 7 – 10). GM food in Australia must be labelled as genetically
modified where novel DNA and/or novel protein is present in the final food. Up
to one percent of GM material may be allowed in the final food before it has to
be labelled as GM modified (pages 10 – 11).
There are several international agreements and barriers affecting the trade
of GM foods, and these are discussed on pages 11 to 14. There are no distinct
international standards for GMOs, countries are assessing their risks on an
individual basis and applying a variety of measures. Rules that require
labelling of GM products are being put in place in an increasing number of
countries. Most of the important grain importing markets now have mandatory
labelling regimes including China, the European Union, Japan and the Republic
of Korea. However, the nature of these labelling regimes differs significantly
between countries (pages 14 to 21).
An analysis of whether GM food crops should be commercially grown produces a
complex matrix of parameters that need to be assessed. The assessment of
environmental and public safety issues is conducted by the Office of Gene
Technology Regulator, which means that once approved for release, the uptake of
the GM technology is a commercial decision. The commercial analysis of such a
decision is also fraught with difficulty.
The Primary Industries Ministerial Council determined on 7 May 2002 that
risks to agricultural production and trade due to the production of GM foods
should be self-regulated by industry supplemented by government monitoring. The
industry response is one of promoting co-existence, and the Gene Technology
Grains Committee is developing guidelines to assist industry to implement a
policy of co-existence of GM, conventional and organic crops. To achieve
co-existence, identity preservation and segregation of crops is required, and
this is expected to increase production costs by around ten percent. There is
considerable concern in the agricultural community about the effectiveness of
proposed identity preservation measures and their cost impact (pages 25-30).
Two case studies are presented – canola and wheat. GM canola was
approved for commercial release in Australia on 25 July 2003. Some Canadian
studies have shown that GM canola crops were obtaining a ten percent yield
above that of conventional canola. However, other studies have proved less
positive. Modelling by ABARE suggests that wide scale adoption of GM canola may
not be justified if consumer acceptance problems require identity preservation
requirements – although this conclusion is sensitive to the assumptions
used (pages 30 – 33).
GM wheat is the next major issue for the world grain trade, with Monsanto in
the United States possibly up to one year away from bringing GM wheat on to the
North American market. Many of Australia’s wheat customers have stated
they will not accept GM wheat.
NSW, along with Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria,
has prohibited the commercial release of GM canola. The legislative and
regulatory regimes for these jurisdictions are discussed (pages 34 – 38).
The views of non-government organizations are canvassed, with the major farming
peak bodies broadly supporting the introduction of GM technology, whilst
conservation groups and some farming organizations oppose it (pages 38 –