SA farmers celebrate choice as GM ban lifted

A long-standing moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops in South Australia is expected to be lifted by the end of the year.

Following a landmark decision by the State’s Parliament, this week, SA grain producers will soon have the option to plant GM varieties of canola, and GM varieties of other crops as they become available.

The decision brings South Australia in line with producers in other mainland states and ends a 16-year moratorium.

For 16 years SA grain growers have been denied the benefits of access to GM canola varieties including herbicide tolerance, increased plant vigour and improved performance in moisture stress conditions.

The moratorium was first put in place on the basis that it would preserve South Australia’s “clean and green” image and allow primary producers to attract higher prices for GM-free crops.

In an independent review, Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson concluded that the estimated cost of the moratorium put the SA grain industry about $33 million out of pocket for canola alone since 2004, confirming the moratorium no longer served as a marketable advantage to SA.

The lifting of SA’s moratorium excludes Kangaroo Island due to its unique market for non-GM canola that a group of Kangaroo Island producers established in Japan.

“This reform will help increase farm profitability and drought resilience, create job opportunities in our regions, grow the state’s economy and attract greater research investment,” SA Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone said.

Farmer and Grain Producers South Australian President Wade Dabinett told the ABC that while it had taken too long for the moratorium to be lifted, it was welcomed.

This moratorium has been a handbrake on our industry, we’re pleased we’re finally moving to line ourselves up with our Victorian neighbours.

Grain Producers South Australian President Wade Dabinet.

“We can now access the same tools they have available to them and we’re excited about the change.”

GPSA has consistently argued the moratorium offers little in the way of trade and marketing benefits to the majority of agricultural producers in SA and removes the option of using GM tools which have been independently proven to be safe and effective.

Breakdown of GM crops in Australia

A genetically modified organism is a living thing (a plant or an animal) that’s had its genetic make-up modified, usually in a controlled laboratory environment using genetic engineering and biotechnology.

In addition to productivity and environmental benefits, GM technology has the potential to address human health needs. For example, by producing plant products enriched with vitamin A or omega-3 oils.

Tasmania remains the only state in Australia (excluding Kangaroo Island) to be GM-free.

Earlier this month the Tasmanian Government extended the moratorium on GM crops for another 10 years. It was due to expire in November 2019.

Despite backlash from farming groups, the Tasmanian Government defended its decision stating that Tasmania’s GM-free status was “an important part of the Tasmanian brand” and offered “a marketing advantage for their high-quality, high-value primary industries.”

There are only three GM crops grown in Australia – canola, cotton and safflower. A number of GM-varieties of other crops are currently at field trial stage, and will become available to producers following regulatory approval by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

Previously the NSW Government extended a blanked moratorium on GM food crops in 2007 until 2011, while the Victorian Government let the moratorium on GM canola expire in 2007.

WA was declared a GM-free area in 2004 but exceptions were made for the commercial cultivation of GM cotton in certain areas and in 2010 the WA Government allowed the commercialisation of GM canola.

Queensland has never had a moratorium on GM crops, and there is no GM moratorium in place in the Northern Territory.

The Australian Academy of Science said that research found that knowledge about what foods in Australia are genetically modified is poor.

“A simple google search demonstrates just how much conflicting and inaccurate information there is out there on GM,” Academy Fellow and plant scientists Dr TJ Higgins said.

The Academy released a question and answer top booklet on GM that tackles some of the big questions.

Read the Q&A here.

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