THE 49,000 tonnes of genetically modified (GM) canola grown in WA last year remains unsold due to grain quality issues connected to the severe drought and not market rejection of biotechnology, as suggested last week by WA Greens MLC, Lynn MacLaren.
WA Agriculture Minister, Terry Redman, has described Ms MacLaren’s disingenuous suggestion as being either a deliberate misrepresentation of the issue or a demonstration of her lack of grain’s industry knowledge.
Ms MacLaren issued a media statement last week saying Mr Redman had “admitted” in Parliament that none of the last year’s GM canola had been sold.
But the Green’s GM spokesperson failed to mention critical detail in her media statement which also named her one-time Greenpeace anti-GM campaigner, Louise Sales.
In responding to Ms MacLarens’ questions in Parliament on June 23, Mr Redman’s spokesperson, WA Energy Minister Peter Collier, said 49,000 tonnes of GM canola was grown in WA last season but none had been sold “at this point”.
“Some canola from WA in 2010 had a low oil content because of the dry seasonal conditions,” the spokesperson said.
“Low oil content non-GM canola was able to be blended with high oil content non-GM canola to meet market specifications.
“Because of the low volume of GM canola grown in WA in 2010 there is not enough high oil content GM canola to blend with low oil content GM canola, thus making a sale more difficult.”
Speaking to Rural Press, Mr Redman said WA had one of its driest seasons on record last year and poor growing conditions had an impact on the quality of all grains.
He said canola with a low oil content was more difficult to sell, in the same way that low-protein wheat was more difficult to sell.
Mr Redman said for Ms MacLaren to claim no GM canola had been sold because the market was rejecting GM technology, “demonstrates that she either has no understanding of the grains industry or is prepared to deliberately misrepresent the situation if she thinks it will help her cause”.
Pro-GM campaigner and experienced Farm Consultant, Bill Crabtree, said Ms MacLaren was being “deliberately misleading” to suit her anti-GM agenda and also questioned her association with Greenpeace.
He said if the Greens and Greenpeace stopped misrepresenting GM’s, there would be no need to waste taxpayers’ funds looking into technology which had regulatory approval, making it safe to eat and grow, from credible scientists across the planet.
The Morawa farmer said he had no problems selling his canola last year “and will have no problems selling it again this year”.
Mr Crabtree said GM technology provided greater benefits to his farming system than purely the end price with weed control, less chemical use and better timing of chemical application also helping to increase overall returns.
Ms McLaren’s media release used the grain marketing misrepresentation to renew calls for an inquiry into the lifting of the GM canola moratorium.
The WA Agriculture Department was also dragged into the Greens’ highly speculative media release saying, at a recent forum in Manjimup, DAFWA's executive director, David Bowran stated that last year's GM canola had been sold to Pakistan.
“Farmers rely on DAFWA for reliable information, so I have to question on what evidence this claim is based,” Ms MacLaren said.
But the Agriculture Department clarified Dr Bowran’s comments.
“Pakistan was one of three countries mentioned at the Manjimup meeting as a likely market for GM canola, as Canadian GM canola is sold into these markets,” the statement said.
“Pakistan has been a long term market for WA canola.”
Other claims by Ms MacLaren were slammed, including linking the unsold WA canola issue with suggestions ninety-five percent of WA's canola went to Europe last year - a market with no tolerance for GM canola.
Grain Producers Australia Chairman, Peter Mailler, said Canada holds a 71 percent share of international canola trade without access to the EU, “therefore the EU restriction on GM does not mean that Australian canola will not or can not be sold”.
“I have no idea if the WA crop has or has not been sold, but there is absolutely no reason why it should or could not be sold,” he said.
“There may be issues with volume and assembling a cargo but an increase in production will undoubtedly improve the liquidity of the market.”
Ms MacLaren also accused the Government of “wasting” $9 million of taxpayers’ money developing GM crops when “there is no market for them and traits such as drought and frost tolerance can be more easily developed using other means”.
Mr Mailler said investing in cutting edge research that will “help keep Australian farmers in the technology race and ensure we do not lose competitive power to oversee producers” was “hardly a waste of money”.
“It is imperative that Australian researchers partner with companies like Monsanto to ensure the relatively small Australian seed market is assured access to the best technology available,” he said.
“Why are the do-gooding Greens so hell bent on undermining Australian agriculture?
“GM technology does not mean "no choice" and proponents of GM technology are generally keen advocates for choice for farmers to choose the production system that suits them best, be it GM, conventional or organic.”
Figures from Agrifood Awareness Australia show that in 2010, 148 million hectares of GM’s were grown around the world by 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries; representing an 87-fold increase since GM crops were first commercialised in 1996.
Of the four leading GM crops: more than 75 per cent of the 90 million hectares of soy grown was GM; GM cotton accounted for 64 per cent of the 33 million hectares of cotton grown in the world; GM corn accounted for 29 per cent of the 158 million hectares of global corn; and GM canola accounted for more than 23 per cent of the 31 million hectares of canola.
In Australia, GM cotton has generated profound results with 90 plus percent of all cotton now GM varieties and pesticide reduction of 85pc per annum.