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New Hope for GM Crops in WA

The election of the Liberals to form a minority government in partnership with the Nationals offers new hope for breaking the current deadlock on the testing GM crops in Western Australia, and for an eventual lifting of the State Moratorium. The Liberal party supports a canola trial of up to 1000 ha in 2009, and the immediate approval of GM cotton in the Ord River region (Stage 2). They are also committed to a review of the existing Moratorium.

However, one should be cautious in making pronouncements at this early stage as Premier-elect Colin Barnett seeks to finalize his new cabinet. While the Nationals support the lifting of  the ban on non-food crops their state president Wendy Duncan is on record (Geraldton Guardian 6/6/08) as supporting the former Carpenter Government's call for a halt to the approval of all GM foods in Australia until "independent scientific trials have been completed".  She was also quoted as saying: "As far as GM food is concerned we believe that caution is the best way to go at this time". If she is given a Cabinet position in the new coalition government this could present some real challenges.

It should also be noted that the definition of "independent scientific trials" on food safety was totally distorted by the previous Labour government when Agriculture Minister Kim Chance appointed anti-GM activist Judy Carman to oversee a so-called "independent testing" study. She was funded by two sources - the WA government (~$90,000) and by Jeffrey Smith, author of two books with some extraordinary claims regarding the dangers of GM food. No protocols for the study were ever declared by Carman, and after nearly two years no results have materialized.  Several leading academics in WA pointed out at the time that Carman has no previous publication track record in conducting animal feeding trials, and over 50 peer-reviewed scientific publications on animal feeding experiments are already available and have confirmed the safety of GM crops.

Anti-GM groups are lobbying most strongly on potential food safety issues, as they are clearly loosing the battle to establish any adverse environmental claims.  During the state election Scott Kinnear inserted two-half page advertisements in the West Australian newspaper, sponsored by a group called GE-free Australia - a conglomerate of NGO groups such as Greenpeace, the NCF, organic faming groups and the Conservation Council of WA. They also have significant linkages to Labour and the Greens Party in WA, and were active in former Premier Alan Carpenter's attempt to make the ban on GM crops and uranium mining a major election issue. This strategy clearly backfired. 

So what is the path forward?  Clearly we must be united in our call for the new Govern-ment to review the existing State Moratorium - they have pledged to do this, and after a short settling in period they should be called to act upon this pledge. Companies producing GM canola seed will be looking for a clearly defined path to market if they are to return and test their products in WA. However, the positive signs for WA farmers are that the genetic supply industry will now in all likelihood be ready to re-engage with WA.

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