Farmers lobby for WA GM ban

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
The West logo

A group of WA farmers wants a permanent ban on open-air genetically modified wheat trials after a contamination scare sent shockwaves through the US grain industry.

Network of Concerned Farmers spokeswoman Julie Newman said GM wheat was the biggest single threat to the industry, worth $7.5 billion a year to the Australian economy.

"We would like to see an immediate ban on all open-air GM wheat trials, all GM wheat sites carefully monitored and cleaned up, and a halt to plans to commercialise GM wheat," Mrs Newman said.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA said there were no current trials in WA.

There have been small-scale trials in the past and it is believed the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has issued licences for field trials in WA, NSW, South Australia and Victoria.

Japan stopped imports of wheat from the US after the US Government detected a strain of GM wheat never approved for sale or consumption on a farm in Oregon.

Monsanto, the world's biggest seed producer, withdrew an approval application for the strain nine years ago. Flour mills in South Korea have suspended imports and the industry in Taiwan wants imports labelled by state of origin.

The European Union has asked Monsanto for a method to detect GM wheat it has developed.

Mukinbudin farmer Gary Copeland said it would be irresponsible for Australia to allow open-air trials. "It is clear from the immediate response from US markets what opposition there is to GM wheat," Mr Copeland said.

"The US ceased these trials years ago because markets were so sensitive, but contamination from open air trials is inevitable."

Intergrain chairman Dale Baker said the WA-based grain breeder was not planning GM trials.

"We are conventional wheat breeders and barley breeders. There have never been trials of GM wheat from Intergrain and we have no short-term or immediate plans to enter that market," he said.

Monsanto has a 19.9 per cent stake in Intergrain, formed in October 2007 when the State Government - through the WA Agriculture Authority and the Grains Research and Development Corporation - transferred the wheat breeding program from DAFWA to the company.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association GM spokesman Bill Crabtree said much of the criticism of GM crops was based on emotion and not science.

Mr Crabtree said he was at a farming conference in Oregon in 2001 where the crowd bristled when Monsanto talked up its plans for GM wheat. He said attitudes to the technology were slowly changing.

He said GM products from overseas were widely used to feed livestock in WA and that Japan imported 2.5 million tonnes of GM canola from Canada each year for use in cooking oil.

with Bloomberg

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails