14/11/2008 - 15:18

WA lifts ban on GM cotton

14/11/2008 - 15:18

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The state government has announced it will lift the moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified cotton in the Ord River irrigation area, boosting the prospects for a major expansion of the region.

WA lifts ban on GM cotton

The state government has announced it will lift the moratorium on the commercial production of genetically modified cotton in the Ord River irrigation area, boosting the prospects for a major expansion of the region.

Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman made the announcement in Kununurra today, breaking Western Australia's moratorium on all large-scale growing of GM cotton.

Mr Redman said the decision had been taken after extensive GM cotton trials in the Ord River area during the last decade, under the supervision of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, Department of Agriculture and Food and CSIRO.

"The trial crops have been very successful from a production point of view, yielding almost 11.5 bales a hectare," he said.

"Over the years, trials of GM cotton in the Ord have frequently out-yielded Australian production by about 10 per cent.

"These trials have shown that there are no agronomic problems, including the control of insects, in growing GM cotton in the Ord. Importantly, there have been no environmental concerns with the crops."

The Minister said the issue of GM cotton had been widely canvassed by Governments with consultative processes within industry, the community and traditional owners of the land, the Miriuwung Gajerrong people.

"The go-ahead for GM cotton adds further impetus to the potential for an expanded Ord irrigation area. Irrigation and land planning issues have been very carefully considered," he said.

"The Government is currently looking at the East Kimberley Development package which includes expanding the Ord irrigation area from 13,000ha to more than 50,000ha of cropped land in the long term."

More than 90 per cent of Australia's cotton production was already GM.

"In the 1970s, WA tried growing non-GM cotton and it was a disaster, with the plants infested with pests," the Minister said.

"Growers had to spray pesticides up to 40 times each season. In comparison, our GM cotton trials have only required two spray applications with insecticides that are far more environmentally-friendly than the now banned DDT used in the 1970s."

Mr Redman said GM cotton should become a major new profitable industry for WA.

"The previous State Government-appointed reference group on GM crops released a report last year which estimated that GM cotton could be worth more than $50million a year to the East Kimberley, generating more than 200 full-time jobs," he said.

"GM cotton is an alternative crop option which could help secure the future of the Ord as a major agricultural region. Cotton growers facing severe water shortages in the Eastern States will also have an alternative site that is well supplied with water all year round and we may see some of their operations move to the Ord, providing relief to the Murray Darling system.

"Today's decision to allow commercial production of GM cotton in the Ord provides growers with a new opportunity to re-launch the cotton industry for this State, this time with the likelihood of much better outcomes.

"I recognise the complexity of issues surrounding the introduction of GM crops and I believe in the delivery of market choice. The Government is continuing to look at the risk management issues surrounding GM canola, with no decision to allow trials as yet.

"Labelling is clearly one aspect of ensuring consumers are provided with adequate information to enable them to choose between GM and non-GM food products.

"Australia has a rigorous food safety system that stipulates labelling requirements for GM foods. However, I am keen to investigate whether there is opportunity for improvements to the current labelling laws and compliance of those laws to better assist in consumer choice."

 

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