The NSW and Victorian governments lifted the moratorium on the planting of genetically modified canola early in 2008. With GM canola accounting for 70 per cent of the global canola market, many Australian growers saw the lifting of the GM crop moratorium as enhancing their competitiveness.
The GM crop moratorium was lifted after reviews conducted for both state governments. The Victorian Government was advised that there would be no great health or environmental risks. The NSW decision was made after an inquiry chaired by former Nationals leader Ian Armstrong. The review panel received 1,375 submissions and conducted more than 30 interviews on issues associated with the marketing and trade aspects of GM crops.
Experts were divided on the wisdom of lifting the bans.
Dr Maarten Stapper, a former CSIRO researcher and farming systems agronomist, said “GM is not the solution to problems in agriculture. GM Moratoria need to be extended until long-term, generational studies become part of the OGTR regulations for approval. GM is a commercial venture needing markets in shortest possible time. Federal regulators and research organisations seem willing partners. GM is a short-term solution with long-term costs. Who benefits? Who pays? Consumers need to be aware.”
Professor Mark Tester, Federation Fellow, Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and The University of Adelaide, took a different view. “I welcome the lifting of the moratorium on GM canola by the Victorian government. It provides farmers with more choices, including the option of using a much safer herbicide. The safety and marketability of these crops have been carefully evaluated by numerous independent, refereed studies, and the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports this technology. Careful use of new technologies such as GM provides options for cheaper and more sustainable farming, and the Australian farmer needs and deserves all the help they can get.”
Although there were assurances that GM canola crops would be segregated to protect non-GM crops, opponents questioned the effectiveness of that strategy, saying the wind tends to carry GM seeds into non-GM areas. They called for the GM crop moratorium to be extended.