OZ Topic - Export trade in secret canola

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Export trade in secret canola
Wednesday 29 March 2000

Government documents reveal that up to half of the genetically engineered canola being grown secretly in Australia is being produced for commercial sale, not scientific experiments.

Documents from the regulatory body set up to oversee genetic modification trials show that significant amounts GM canola are being grown for export.

A spokesman for the federal Agriculture Minister, Mr Warren Truss, said he was unaware of the commercial production and that it was a matter for the industry regulator.

Opponents of genetic engineering are describing it as commercialisation by stealth.

In other developments yesterday:

The Tasmanian Government has called on the Federal Government to allow it to opt out of permitting genetically modified crops in the state, but Canberra has so far refused.

AWB Ltd, formerly the Australian Wheat Board, said yesterday that its main overseas customers, particularly countries in the Middle East and Asia, had been adamant that they did not want GM wheat. But the company was keeping its options open so it would have access to future genetic technology should tastes change.

The Australian Consumers Association's chief executive, Ms Louise Sylvan, has warned the Federal Government not to take sides on GM foods and to require complete openness by the industry. "There is a perception that the Government is taking the side of the companies," she said.

The president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, Mr Peter Walsh, scoffed at concerns by the Federal Government's own scientists that herbicide-resistant super weeds could result from widespread use of GM canola. He said that new forms of chemical herbicides would be easily developed to take care of such weeds.

The Government's own Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee and a spokeswoman for the French/German crop science company Aventis have admitted to widespread production of genetically modified canola for export.

At least 2000 hectares of the crop are likely to be in open fields with no covered protection against cross-pollination to other crops or weeds. But under the guidelines, buffer zones for such crops must be of 50 metres from related weeds and 400 metres from a commercial canola crop.

According to GMAC documents, most of the exported GM crops are grown in spring and summer so they can be ready for release in the northern hemisphere summer, particularly in Canada and the US.

It is known as "contra-season" planting and produces what some operators refer to as "mother seed". In Australia it is mainly being undertaken by Aventis and its US rival, Monsanto.

None of this seed can be sold legally in Australia, but reports have been received of Australian farmers being offered black-market GM canola.

Two weeks ago The Age was directed to a mother seed field that had just been harvested near the South Australian town of Allendale, south of MtGambier. It was in an open field next to a main road and the landowner was subject to a secrecy agreement with the seed company.

On Saturday The Age revealed that bags of plants from another GM canola crop near Mt Gambier were dumped on an open commercial tip. But Ms Naomi Stevens, for Aventis, which ran the trials, has claimed the company buried the material under a metre of soil.

The director of the GeneEthics Network, Mr Bob Phelps, said the regulators were letting Australia down by putting the clean image of our agricultural export industries at risk. He called for an immediate freeze on GM crop releases and a disclosure of the location of production and trial sites.


Posted to follow up on previous story about GM Canola:

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Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), March 28, 2000

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