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20 January 2011 - Common Sense with GM Canola Claims a Must

With claim and counter-claim circling in WA about GM canola and organic production, Grain Producers Australia Deputy Chair, and National spokesman on R&D, Andrew Weidemann, suggests now is clearly a time to put facts before fictions.

Reports of an organic farmer threatening to sue a neighbouring GM canola grower in WA is an overdue opportunity to inject facts and reality back into a topic that becomes overtaken by emotion and mis-information.

Let's never overlook that canola is a highly-bred plant: the original rapeseeds had a high oleic acid content which reduced palatability, so through an intensive genetic selection and breeding program in the 1970's the CANadians bred an Oil with Low Acid plant – CANOLA!

Then agricultural scientists just took the process one step further with the aid of GM techniques used in soybeans, cotton and corn to provide canola farmers with a new variety with valuable weed control attributes.

But with a dash of ideology and plenty of fiction, a pretty simple story becomes a regular national issue!

People should compare the hullabulloo over GM canola's introduction in Australia to the non-issue that has been GM cotton since 1996. Both crops use Roundup-Ready technology, both crops result in less ag-chem use and both crops produce edible oils for cooking and meal for livestock supplements. Their key facts are the same, but why all the fuss over canola?

Let's not forget that there are individuals who have a complete disregard for good science and a lack of understanding around current commercial farming and take every opportunity to engineer obstacles and 'doubt-monger'. Their campaign has an unstated yet insatiate motivation to stifle future crop development.

Hundreds of farmers grew near 133,000 hectares of GM canola varieties in 2010 – near 12% of the Australian canola crop. That there has been no issue at all, up until now, demonstrates that farms using GM and conventional varieties can and do co-exist, where people allow them to.

This, in part, goes back to industry planning in 2006-7. The grains industry examined the international and domestic supply-chains to understand what protocols and procedures would be required to ensure market and customer requirements were met, and align with scientific facts. 

The "Delivering Market Choice with GM canola" document shows how GM canola production can co-exist with other industries under globally accepted standards and tolerances. Even an ABARE report in 2007 found that 'The commercialisation of GM canola in Australia is likely to have only negligible direct impacts on the organic canola, livestock and honey industries'. 

Indeed, it's a two-way street - most farmers and neighbours just get on and deal with weed, insect, pest or disease issues rather than play the blame game. Yes, organic farmers have rights, but so to do conventional farmers.

Oddly, the Australian National Organic Standard does not mirror the international standard by adopting a zero-tolerance position. This needs investigation because no farmer can live and operate in isolation of neighbours and the local environment. We have to allow for acts of nature, accidents and random events – we can't stop the wind or ensure which way birds fly. The unintended presence of one grain or seed type in another just happens! Another oddity is that this Standard is compulsory for export markets but voluntary for domestic markets.

For this WA case to be talked up as a legal conflict so quickly beggars belief and raises questions.

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) de-certified the organic farmer over an act-of-nature like it was a hot potato; in effect, ditched. What industry body does that? Were alternatives considered?

An accidental circumstance has spun like topsy. Calm, experienced heads are needed to refer to all the good science and put the matter in its correct perspective. Common-sense and reality should not be jettisoned in a rush to the lawyers.

Grain Producers Australia is the peak body responsible for representing producers at the national level.

For more information please contact:
Andrew Weidemann
Ph: 03 5385 5089    Mob: 0428 504 544

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