The Guardian April 30, 2003


Australia's GE-free status at risk

It seemed like an horrendous April Fools' Day joke on the people of 
Australia when the Office of Gene Technology Regulator (declared on April 1 
that the release of Bayer's genetically engineered (GE) canola into 
Australia would pose no risks to our health or environment. Environmental 
and consumer advocate groups greeted the Regulator's findings with 
outrage.

"April fools day is fitting for the release of this long awaited plan from 
the Office of Gene Technology Regulator", said Greenpeace spokesperson 
Jeremy Tager.

"The Gene Regulator's risk assessment is based on unbridled optimism. It 
assumes GE organisms are safe until proven otherwise  the opposite of the 
precautionary principle."

"Based on the same risk assessment process, tobacco and chemicals like DDT 
would be considered safe and welcomed into our food chain", Mr Tager said.

In Australia, the release of GE organisms is regulated by the Office of 
Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR).

The OGTR takes a narrow view when interpreting the environmental and health 
impacts of GE crops. It doesn't consider issues such as the economic 
impacts of GE crops on farmers or markets.

Applications for the commercial release of GE canola were lodged by 
agrochemical companies, Monsanto and Bayer, in June 2002.

The public now have until May 26 to make submissions on the Bayer 
application before the OGTR makes its final decision.

If the OGTR decides in favour of its release for commercial production the 
GE canola will be able to be planted immediately  unless State 
Governments declare GE free zones.

Irreversible economic damage

GE crops are risky for our environment and a financial risk to farmers and 
rural communities.

Australia's three major export markets for canola, China, Japan and the EU, 
reject GE crops.

China and the EU are introducing tough new labelling laws that include 
labelling of oils.

If GE canola is brought to Australia, it will be difficult and expensive to 
maintain our GE-free status.

Separating GE grains from non-GE grains will mean that non-GE farmers will 
have to set up expensive segregation systems. Even then, contamination will 
still occur.

In Canada, canola fields have been almost totally GE contaminated. Canada 
once exported canola to lucrative European markets, which have since 
rejected GE foods.

In 2000 and 2001, Canada's canola exports to Europe fell to zero. Legal 
action is under way against multinational chemical companies, Monsanto and 
Bayer, which introduced GE canola.

Time to act

There is time for Australia to retain its GE-free status and avoid the huge 
and still mainly unknown environmental, health and economic consequences.

The NSW, WA and Tasmanian State Governments have all declared that they 
will maintain or impose moratoriums on GE crops after the decision by the 
OGTR.

South Australia has also indicated that it will not allow planting this 
year.

It is now critical that Queensland and Victoria declare a moratorium on GE 
in their states also.

It is urgent that residents of all States write to those two Premiers and 
demand they join with the other States to ensure Australia remains 
completely GM free.

All emails must include a postal return address.

Hon. Peter Beattie
PO Box 185, BRISBANE ALBERT STREET, QLD 4002
Email: Brisbane.Central@parliament.qld.gov.au

Hon Steve Bracks
1 Treasury Place, Melbourne Vic 3000
Email: steve.bracks@parliament.vic.gov.au

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