I was getting bored with all the posturing about how Australian farmers would be sued for growing canola contaminated with genetically modified (GM) material, but now it seems there has been some resolution to the issue.
Melissa Marino reported in today’s The Age that canola with traces of genetically modified material will be allowed to be traded after an agreement by federal and state agriculture ministers:
The agreement, made yesterday at the Primary Industries Ministerial Council meeting in Launceston will tolerate levels of GM material of up to 0.9 per cent after a spate of contaminated canola was detected in crops this year.
Moratoriums imposing a nil tolerance, including in Victoria, would now be lifted to allow for the unintended or accidental presence of GM canola in conventional canola crops in a move applauded by farmer groups but denounced by anti-GM groups, including Greenpeace.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron said this year’s harvest could now go ahead without disruption. No farmers would be prosecuted for growing conventional canola with trace levels of GM material, he said.
Mr Cameron said a threshold for the presence of GM material at 0.9 per cent was consistent with the standard accepted by the European Union. Under the agreement, seed companies would be required to reduce the traces of GM material in conventional canola to 0.1 per cent over the next two planting seasons, he said.
It is a blow to Greenpeace who have until recently campaigned hard against the commercial planting of GM canola on the basis of the perception we can keep Australia GM free. Nevermind that we have been eating vegetable oil from cotton seed from locally grown GM cotton plants for nearly ten years!
The whole saga is really quite extraordinary:
1. That Australian state governments placed moratoriums banning the planting of a food crop (specifically GM canola) on the basis of fear of a technology used in many other countries including Canada, China and the US, and then,
2. That traces of GM material were found in the conventional (non-GM) canola.
As I have detailed in a previous post, the contamination is probably from a conventional Australian canola breeding program that exchanged germplasm with an overseas companies and in the exchange of germplasm the impurity/the Topas 19/2 was introduced.
Topas 19/2 includes a gene from a soil bacteria that confers herbicide resistance. The same gene, known as the pat gene has been used as a marker in a wide range of research in a variety of crops around the world. The pat gene is a Bayer creation and a product of biotechnology/genetic engineering/genetic modificiation.
In another post I suggested that with a form of GM canola now established in Australia, Greenpeace really needs a new campaign.
Maybe they are going to now focus on GM cotton? Greenpeace recently asked CSIRO for documentation on the water use, soil impact and effect on other insects of GM cotton through a freedom of information request. CSIRO have apparently responded by asking for $21,000 – the cost of getting 1,000 hours of documentation together.
This summer marks the tenth anniversary of the planting of GM cotton in Australia. The crop has been a phenomenal success with 90% of cotton growers planting the stuff and pesticide application rates down an average 88% last season. Cotton has been exempt from the bans on GM food crops on the basis it is grown primarily for fibre (not food). Nevermind that 35% of the vegetable oil we eat in Australia is from cotton seed.
While we in Australia become ever more tangled in GM politics, in other parts of the world real research is happening. A latest breakthrough includes Danish scientists showing that it is possible to produce plants which change colour in the presence of specific compounds within the soil. In particular they’ve found a gene that can turns a plant red if explosive residues are present. This is what the blushing plants look like: http://www.gizmag.com.au/go/2568/gallery/ .
Thanks to Roger Kalla for many of the above links and some of the above information.