WA GM ban rule to be scrapped

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
PGA grains president John Snooke.
Camera IconPGA grains president John Snooke. Credit: Danella Bevis/The Countryman.

The State Government is paving the way to scrap laws which allow WA to prevent the growing of genetically modified crops.

WA's GM Crops Free Areas Act will be reviewed this year in the knowledge that if Labor gained power it would put a sudden halt to farmers planting GM canola.

Under the laws, the State Government must grant an exemption to allow the planting of GM crops approved by Commonwealth authorities.

There is push from the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and sections of the Liberal Party to remove that power of veto on approved crops as more and more farmers adopt the technology.

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The PGA estimates about a quarter of WA's 4300 grain growers use GM canola as part of their cropping program.

Sales of GM canola seed in WA jumped 53 per cent to more than 600 tonnes in the past year in a windfall for Monsanto, which allows seed companies to use its Roundup Ready gene technology under licence.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said it was time for a review to ensure the legislation introduced by Labor in 2003 was serving "a real purpose".

"I think it's time we had a good look at whether the Act is working effectively and efficiently and in the long-term interests of the WA grains industry," he said.

Shadow agriculture minister Ken Travers said Labor was committed to rolling out the no-GM policy if it won the next election, but would need to consider how it managed the transition.

PGA grains president John Snooke said the industry was concerned about the potential for decisions based on political gain, not scientific evidence to disrupt the use of GM technology.

"The Commonwealth approval process is based on science but the WA laws allow GM to become a political pawn," he said.

Safe Food Foundation director Scott Kinnear said the Commonwealth and all States had an important co-regulatory role in managing GM crops.

Mr Kinnear said it would be unusual for WA to give up its right to veto GM crops. He said such crops posed a major risk to market access for one of WA's most valuable export industries.

The State Government has allocated $2.25 million for GM crop research over the next four years.

Research projects include sourcing genes for GM wheats with frost resistance and evaluating GM wheats and barleys for salinity and drought tolerance. The work is based at the New Genes for New Environments facilities at Merredin and Katanning.

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