Oz Topic - GM crop dumped at tip

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GM crop dumped at tip
Saturday 25 March 2000

Experimental genetically engineered canola plants, not approved for public release in Australia, have been dumped in an open commercial rubbish tip near the South Australian city of Mount Gambier.

Federal Government experts have warned that herbicide-resistant "super weeds", which are almost impossible to eradicate, could emerge after such plants cross-pollinate with certain common weed species.

All genetically modified plant trials are supposed to be conducted under strict control guidelines, because a weed developing herbicide resistance would be a disaster for Australian agriculture and the environment.

The dumped plants being tested by the multinational crop science company, Aventis, contained up to three genetic modifications - one giving herbicide resistance and a second encouraging them to make hybrids.

They are also likely to have residue from a herbicide glufosinate ammonium not yet approved in Australia, and may have had a third genetic modification to give resistance to two common antibiotics - one used in human pharmaceuticals.

The Age has also heard reports of an emerging black market in GM canola seed. In one case, the seeds were offered to one of Australia's leading agricultural businessmen by a travelling salesman who promised a dramatic increase in yields.

Grown in secret trials by two multinational companies, genetically modified canola crops have been spread across six Australian states on more than 200 sites over the past two to three years.

Aventis, a French-German conglomerate formed from a merger of two companies in December, was growing the canola on a site at Yells Road, Moorak, a few kilometres south of Mount Gambier.

This site had been rented from a potato farmer who said he had signed a confidentiality agreement, but he confirmed both the company and the crop.

Such sites have so far been kept secret from local councils, the media and even State Government agencies, but in this case a concerned farmer informed The Age about its location.

Revelations of the dumped GM canola have outraged the organic farming lobby and a leading agricultural industrialist. The Organic Federation chairman, Mr Scott Kinnear, said the dumping illustrated the weakness in having such an important issue monitored only by industry self-regulation.

"This industry should be controlled by legislation based on enforced regulation, not a voluntary system," Mr Kinnear said.

Mr Doug Shears, whose businesses include the Berri fruit juice label, said be believed Australia stood to lose far more than it gained from GM crops.

"It (the dumping) makes a mockery of the supposed controls. Australia stands to gain a premium on agricultural exports if we can guarantee they are GM free," he said.

Strict guidelines are supposed to be in place to ensure controlled disposal of experimental GM material. At the Mount Gambier site, an open commercial rubbish skip was placed on the roadside as workers cleared up after the trials. Torn bags of plant materials made up about a third of the skip's contents.

Tests by a Melbourne laboratory, GeneScan, have confirmed the plants contained high levels of transgenic DNA. An Aventis spokeswoman, Ms Naomi Stevens, said the company was able to dispose of dead plant material in such a way providing it was buried under a metre of soil within 24 hours. "What is the problem, it is just dead plants?" Ms Stevens said.

She also disputed the tests conducted by The Age proved the GM material was from her company.

"No test in the world can prove conclusively the identity of GM material," she said.

A spokesman for the company owning the skip hired by Aventis said that on 17March it was removed and dumped at a nearby private open landfill. He said he did not know what the skip contained and would have ensured it was buried if he had.

Legislation to control GM products is expected to go to Federal Parliament next month. Currently all GM tests are supervised by a self-regulated body, the Institutional Bio-safety Committees, which is dominated by the bio-technology industry.

Also found within 15 metres of the trial plants were large quantities of the weed Hirschfeldia incana or hoary mustard, a sample of which was identified by the National Herbarium in Melbourne.

Tests conducted by French and British scientists in 1995 and 1996 found this weed readily cross-pollinated with GM canola and produced fertile seed.

Under Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee guidelines, a 50-metre buffer zone should be maintained to prevent the growth of sexually compatible species.


I live just up the road from the cropping paddocks and the dump. Aventis, a French-German conglomerate, eh? Hmmmm!

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), March 24, 2000

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