Funding for GM wheat research questioned

Kate Matthews and Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

The State Government might claim it has made no decision about commercialising GM cereals, but questions are being raised about why they are funding $9 million GM research facilities at Merredin and Katanning.

In Parliament last week Premier Colin Barnett said the Government had not made any decision to support GM wheat and he didn’t expect they would.

But that statement has raised the heckles of Opposition Agriculture spokesman Mick Murray, who claims the Premier and Agriculture Minister Terry Redman must answer why they are using taxpayers’ money to fund research if they are against GM cereals.

Mr Murray fears the trials could lead to contamination.

“Taxpayers’ money is being spent on researching products that can’t be commercialised,” he said.

“Why are we having these GM cereal trials when the Premier has said no to GM wheat but is satisfied with GM cotton and canola.”

However, perhaps the State Government’s stance on GM cereals isn’t a case of ‘not ever’, but rather ‘not now'.

Mr Redman said a significant barrier to commercialising GM wheat was market acceptance.

“I believe that over the next decade or so there will be products that will be available commercially but also there would need to be a significant market shift,” he said.

“Right now the markets do not accept GM cereals… so the farming community in WA would not support it simply because we couldn’t sell it.

“The State Government has made no decisions around GM cereals full stop.

“What we have made decisions around is putting effort into and resources into the facilities needed to do GM research in WA.

“In terms of research and development yes we are making the investments because we see that as necessary now in order for there to be varieties suitable for WA in maybe a decade’s time.”

Mr Redman might have indicated a tentative support for future commercialisation of GM cereals but debate is revealing serious concerns from within the Liberal Party about GM technology and whether it is safe for consumers and can be contained.

Both Southern River MLA Peter Abetz and South Perth MLA John McGrath have raised concerns about GM technology and last year Mr Abetz threatened to cross the floor ahead of a disallowance motion on GM crop exemptions.

Mr Abetz said the general community would be less resistant towards the use of GM crops if there was research conducted by independent third parties which showed that it was safe.

But Mr McGrath, the Government Whip, has taken a stronger stance against the technology.

Mr McGrath said the results of the first year of planting had come under question after a Great Southern grower lost his organic certification due to contamination from a neighbour’s GM crop.

He is pleased that Premier Colin Barnett has distanced himself from GM wheat by declaring in State Parliament this week that the State was “not contemplating” growing it.

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