SOUTH Australia’s farmers are unlikely to have access to genetically modified (GM) crops until at least 2025 after a bill to extend the moratorium on GM crops, put forward by the Greens, passed the SA Upper House by a single vote last week.
It is expected proponents of the ban will now have enough numbers to get a similar motion through the Lower House, which will see a six year extension of the GM moratorium, meaning South Australia will continue to be the only mainland state that bans the use of GM crops.
South Australia’s grains industry leaders are furious at the decision.
“This is an unmitigated disaster for South Australian agriculture and grain growers,” said Wade Dabinett, Grain Producers South Australia
“We have had this moratorium in place for ten years – how is it that we have a piece of policy in place where there has not been one piece of work done that provides data to justify why it should be in place,” Mr Dabinett said.
“Other Government bodies, such as the Productivity Commission have said the moratorium need to go, citing a number of factors, yet the SA Government has moved to extend the moratorium.”
Mr Dabinett said he was concerned the SA Government appeared not to be interested in the wishes of rural voters.
Referring to comments made by SA Premier Jay Weatherill to the ABC in July where he said the small number of rural voters meant the Government was free of ‘electoral imperatives’ to act on removing the moratorium, Mr Dabinett said the onus was on the Government to govern for all South Australians.
“You want politicians that don’t just make decisions chasing the votes, but further to that, I would challenge the myth that the majority of people are actually against GM.”
“The Greens talk about protecting the organic industry, but we look over the border in Victoria and small scale agriculture hasn’t collapsed.
“Co-existence does work, we’ve seen it in place and people are still free to grow non-GM or buy non-GM if they choose.
“We just want that same right of choice.”
However, Greens MLC Mark Parnell said he was delighted with the Labor Government’s support to secure the moratorium for an additional six years.
“The current moratorium has provided a significant price premium for our state’s farmers compared to GM crops grow in other states,” he said.
A premium exists for non-GM canola in Victoria and NSW of around $40 a tonne at present, however growers in those states have the option of growing non-GM varieties if they wish.
In terms of non-GM canola prices, there is actually a $5/t premium for canola delivered to Geelong, in Victoria, compared to Port Adelaide, $545/t to $540/t.
Previous research by market analysts Mercardo found little evidence of a premium for SA canola.
Nationally, pro-GM groups have teed off at the South Australia Government, labelling the decision ‘misguided’ and ‘anti-science.
Matthew Cossey, chief executive of Australia’s crop protection industry peak body CropLife, said the decision had been made without a regard for the evidence.
“Playing these types of anti-farmer politics is irresponsible given any opposition to the farming of GM crops is based on nothing but the misguided belief of myths and misleading claims.”
He said the Government was playing politics by making a decision now, before an election early next year, rather than waiting until the current moratorium expired in 2019.
“Extending the GM moratorium without any evidence or consultation is a huge blow to the thousands of grain growers around SA who support our position to review the GM moratorium.”
Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) vice president Brett Hosking said it was not just South Australian farmers that would suffer from the SA government decision.
“It is sad for our country and it is hampering productivity in terms of grains industry research and development, the incentive for private businesses to invest in R&D is reduced just by the actions of one rogue state,” he said.
Mr Dabinett added it was not just the grains sector that would suffer in South Australia as a result of the decision.
“The focus is on grains, because we have GM canola commercialised to grow that would be an immediate fit for our growers, but down the track GM could be used in other sectors.
“In horticulture there is already work being done, it could also have implications for livestock or dairy, it is more than just the traits on the table at present.”
The anti-GM lobby had a different interpretation of the news.
"SA farmers, food processors and the whole community can win from SA remaining GM-free," said Gene Ethics Director, Bob Phelps
He said SA growers would now have an opportunity to exploit potential opportunities for branded non-GMO product.
“There are real opportunities, as pointed out in a University of Adelaide report last year,” he said.