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GM canola gets the nod in Australia

(Thursday, April 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- In Australia, Sue Meek, the Gene Technology Regulator, approved the commercial release of genetically modified canola produced by Bayer CropScience. Meek said she could find no evidence that the transgenic canola posed increased environmental or health risks. Victorian farmers reportedly will be the first to plant the herbicide resistant oilseed.

Editor's note: I find myself wondering whether Meek ever looked at the out-of-control transgenic canola in western Canada or the lost markets that resulted. The Network of Concerned Farmers had the following reaction:

The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) rejected the Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (RARMP) for the Bayer CropScience (formerly Aventis) application for the release of Genetically Modified (GM) canola issued today by the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR).

"This RARMP does not consider the costs to farmers and the potential loss of markets. The refusal of the OGTR to assess the economic impact on Australian farmers is negligent as the OGTR can choose to include it in the assessment," Mrs Julie Newman, farmer, Newdegate, WA and NCF member said.

"The cost to farmers of segregating grain under a coexistence system is estimated to be at least 10% of the product value (AFFA Productivity Report 2002). These costs plus liability issues where a farmer must guarantee that there is no GM contamination in their grain will effectively force farmers to market as GM to remain viable," she said.

"The OGTR is prepared to accept the GM crop management plans of the product provider which means that the non-GM farmer may be required to destroy the first five metres of their crop as a buffer zone to prevent contamination.

This is not addressing the problem but adding to the problem," she said.

"How can the OGTR claim there is no health or environmental issue with the release GM canola when the chemicals planned for use on these crops have not yet gained approval for use by the National Registration authority?" Mrs Newman said.

Mr Sam Statham, a NSW NCF member explained that the Canadian and American grain belts demonstrate that once GM canola is released, it is the dominant gene in the natural environment and GM free grain growing rapidly declines, as herbicide resistant volunteers start to dominate non GM crops.

"The pro-GM lobby says that farmers seeking to protect their rights are denying farmers choice, but what choice exists for farmers wishing to grow GM free crops, five years after the GM canola release?" Mr Statham said. Mr Scott Kinnear, VFF and NCF member said, "It s extraordinary that the Risk Assessment of the release of GM canola not only fails to assess economic and social impacts but fails to consider herbicide resistance and the health and environmental issues of increased herbicide use by farmers."

"Our Network will be urging farmers to speak up and reject the Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plan (open for comment until 26 May 2003) and make the government accountable. Once GM canola is released it cannot be recalled from the environment. We are being sold out for promises with minimal, beneficial returns and a product that dominates the natural environment," Mr Kinnear said. "We will be asking VIC, SA and QLD to join TAS, WA and NSW and reject plantings in their jurisdiction now that the Federal Government is one step away from issuing a licence," Mr Kinnear said.