13/11/2007 - 22:00

Esperance GM canola trial delayed

13/11/2007 - 22:00

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Western Australia’s first large-scale commercial trial of genetically modified canola has hit a major stumbling block, with the seed companies unwilling to relinquish seed for the independent trial near Esperance.

Esperance GM canola trial delayed

Western Australia’s first large-scale commercial trial of genetically modified canola has hit a major stumbling block, with the seed companies unwilling to relinquish seed for the independent trial near Esperance.

WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance approved the application by Esperance-based South East Premium Wheat Growers Association mid-year to conduct a large-scale GM canola trial, the only application received to date.

But the companies that own the GM technology, Monsanto and Bayer, are refusing to hand over the quantity of seed needed for the trial, delaying the start of trial to the 2008 growing season or beyond.

SEPWA’s John Richardson said the group had received indications from the seed companies that they would be unwilling to grant seed for a trial while there was no chance of developing a viable market in Australia due to the moratorium.

“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario,” he said.

“We understand that if there is some indication GM will become commercially grown [in Australia] they’re interested in doing a trial.”

Mr Chance said he was “more of a skeptic than an antagonist” with regard to GM crops, and that he would like to see the results of independent broad-scale commercial trials of GM canola in WA before considering lifting the moratorium in WA.

Earlier this week, Mr Chance had his decision to continue the GM moratorium on food crops supported, after food giant Goodman Fielder urged all states to continue their GM moratoria.

In a letter to state premiers last week, Goodman Fielder chief executive Peter Margin said consumers preferred GM-free food because of the uncertainty surrounding its long-term effects on human health.

He said Australia’s current competitive advantage on international grain markets because of its GM-free status, and uncertainty about the performance of GM crops compared with traditional crops, were further reasons to continue the moratorium.

Mr Chance said he remained unconvinced that consumers in both domestic and international markets would support GM food.

“When we have the largest buyer of canola in Australia, Goodman Fielder, coming out and saying we don’t want GM…you’ve got to listen,” he told WA Business News.

“I don’t think people have been convinced.”

Mr Chance said the government was maintaining its cautious approach to GM food crops, and remained unconvinced about claims made by GM supporters of increased yields and economic benefits to growers.

But while the minister’s stance on GM food crops is one of caution, he believed growing GM cotton in the state’s far north could be a viable option.

In August, Mr Chance released a discussion paper into the potential for GM cotton production in the Ord River Irrigation Area, which industry groups say would underwrite the development of Ord Stage Two and bring significant economic and social benefits to the region.

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