The New South Wales Government is set to lift the ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, after an 18-year moratorium on the practice.
- NSW’s ban on GM crops lifts on July 1
- Canola, cotton and safflower are the only GM crops currently grown in Australia
Environmental groups have concerns about the widespread use of chemicals on GM crops
The state’s Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall today announced the ban would be lifted from July 1.
Mr Marshall said it opened the door for the state’s primary industries sector to embrace new GM technologies in the field, “potentially reaping billions of dollars in benefits”.
“The potential agronomic and health benefits of future GM crops include everything from drought and disease resistance, to more efficient uptake of soil nutrients, increased yield and better weed control,” Mr Marshall said.
“In fact, adoption of GM technology is forecast to deliver up to $4.8 billion in total gross benefits across NSW primary industries over the next 10 years.
“GM technology could save farmers up to 35 per cent of their overheads and boost production by almost 10 per cent.
“This will be a key area of growth on our path to a $19 billion industry by 2023.”
Mr Marshall said the government had followed the lead of several other states to lift the moratorium.
“The safeguards are there as there are already in other states where the sky hasn’t fallen in because the Commonwealth government through the Gene Technology Regulator, an independent robust regulator already controls what genetically modified crops can and cannot be grown.
“There’s enough of an evidence base now to demonstrate the moratorium is no longer required and this is not a new thing because Queensland, Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australia have now removed their moratoriums.”
Canola, cotton and safflower are the only GM crops grown by farmers in Australia.
However, there are experimental trials underway for GM banana, barley, ryegrass, sugarcane and wheat.
Across the world, 80 different types of commercial GM crops are grown. The most common GM crops are canola, soybean, maize and cotton.
NSW Farmers support lifting the ban
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said the group was “broadly supportive” about lifting the ban, but wanted to see the risk-benefit ratio balanced.
He said it would offer farmers greater crop choice.
“There is obviously some risks with introducing new genetic material into various plants,” he said.
“For farmers, it’s all about the right to choose. There are farmers who would incorporate GMO’s into their farming systems and there are farmers who would choose not to.”
Mr Jackson said NSW Farmers had faith in the federal regulator but also wanted consumer labels to be accurate.
“We’ve got a situation where we need an independent person to oversee it and we do need really good labelling,” he said.
“These [GM crops] are a technology that actually has huge potential but we’ve just got to take careful steps to make sure that there’s not any untoward consequences to introducing these genes into our agricultural systems or indeed, our environment.”
Activists oppose lifting the ban
Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps said the claim GM crops had the ability to increase food production by 9 per cent still needed to be proven.
“Almost 100 per cent of genetically manipulated crops worldwide are either RoundUp tolerant, so you can spray RoundUp herbicide more often and at higher doses over your crop without killing it to get better weed kills.
“And on the other hand there was also the Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) insect toxins which are built into the crop plant so that when the caterpillar comes along and bites the plant, canola or cotton plant for instance in the case of NSW, then the caterpillar will be given a poison and it will die.
“So those are the only two traits that are in the marketplace at the moment and all these claims of higher yields, and drought and salt tolerant, and more nutritious foods have been promised now for the last 30 years.”