Page 1087 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 8 April 2008

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in very minute amounts. A UK farm study in 2003 found that growing some GM crops could potentially reduce biodiversity in fields, due to fewer insects and birds.

In Australia, no transgenic organism or product can be released into the environment or used in industry until approved by the Gene Technology Regulator, created through the Gene Technology Act 2000 which came into force on 21 June 2001. The OGTR is authorised to control GM organisms to protect the health and safety of Australians and the environment and to identify the risks posed by gene technology and manage them by regulating what scientists can do and checking what they do.

In the ACT there is one GMO trial of wheat which is now in the post-harvest monitoring phase. According to the last quarterly report of the Gene Technology Regulator, of the 34 sites subject to post-harvest monitoring in the quarter, only four were actually monitored. This represents a monitoring rate of 12 per cent of all sites subject to post-harvest monitoring in the quarter. That is from the quarterly report 1 October to 31 December 2007.

So there are clearly good grounds for opposing the indiscriminate use of gene technology. There is much community and farming disquiet over the production of GM food in particular. In February this year the moratorium on the sale of genetically modified canola seeds was lifted, allowing farmers in New South Wales and Victoria to plant GM crops. Groups of farmers and others are opposed to genetically modified plants, arguing that the risks are not understood with any certainty and the costs to the environment, trade and human health could be too great.

In February, one of the heads of Canada’s National Farmers Union was touring Australia, warning about his experiences with using GM—or GE, genetically engineered, as it is known in Canada. NFU vice president Terry Boehm, who farms wheat, barley, lentils and canola in Canada, said, “It is not a magic bullet; genetic engineering nor herbicide tolerant crops are a magic bullet.” That was reported on the ABC on 4 February 2008. He said farmers would see some short-term simplification of production, but that was all. He went on to say, “Very quickly you will have the whole country contaminated and you do that at your peril in terms of markets.” He said segregation of GM and non-GM crops is practically impossible and farmers will pay the hefty licence fees and royalties for seeds each year or face litigation if they do not. He disputed claims by the pro-GM lobby in Australia that Canadian farmers had gained markets due to GM crops. He said this claim was bogus and that the Canadian government with the US government are lodging legal actions through the World Trade Organisation against the refusal of the European Union to open their markets to GE canola.

Reports from the CSIRO, the British government and the EU reveal significant problems with GMOs, including lack of adequate testing; failure to utilise best practice in risk assessment; new findings in relation to GMOs and soil; significant impacts on biodiversity in Britain; and failings of the regulatory system in Australia. The recent outbreak of equine influenza has been shown to be the result of such regulatory failure in Australia; the Howard government poured in millions of dollars to help keep the equine industry afloat during the crisis.

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