GM canola ban talk ‘reckless’

Darren West. Picture: Lewis Freer

The head of Monsanto in Australia has blasted the State Opposition as it prepares to release figures showing another jump in sales of genetically modified canola seed.

Managing director Daniel Kruithoff said Labor would set the WA grains industry back by 15 years if it won the next election and implemented a policy to stop the growing of GM canola.

“One of the things they have used to reinforce their position are propositions around the safety of GM,” he said.

“We think those kind of statements are actually quite reckless because the overwhelming weight of evidence demonstrates that GM crops are safe.”

Monsanto supports a move by Agriculture Minister Ken Baston to repeal the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act before the next election. Under the Act, the State Government must grant an exemption to allow the planting of GM crops approved safe to use by Commonwealth authorities.

Labor has vowed to withdraw the exemption that has allowed WA grain growers to plant GM canola since 2010 if the Act is still in place and it wins the next election.

However, Labor spokesman Darren West revealed it was not opposed to all GM cropping and would support the growing of GM wheat in WA under certain conditions.

Mr Kruithoff said the combined total of WA farmland planted with GM canola over the past five years had just hit the million-hectare mark.

He tipped sales of GM canola seed, produced using Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene technology, to increase 20 per cent on last year, when WA growers purchased more than 600 tonnes.

Mr Kruithoff said WA farmers were benefiting from increased productivity and improved sustainability.

“We are not sure the State Opposition has thoroughly thought through their position if they were to win the next election,” he said.

“What it will do is set the industry back 15 years because seed breeding takes a long time to develop new varieties and to generate the benefits from that.

“Farmers in WA are experiencing increased yields, higher oil content and better weed control because of this technology.”

Mr Kruithoff said he wanted to meet Opposition Leader Mark McGowan to discuss the issue.

Mr West said Labor would welcome a meeting with Monsanto but rejected the criticism of its policy on GM canola.

“Monsanto is set to make a lot of money out of WA grain growers and, of course, they will be frustrated with anyone who stands between them and that money,” he said.

Mr West said Labor opposed the exemption because it wanted more time to assess food safety concerns, proper labelling for GM products and to resolve potential conflict between GM, non-GM and organic farming systems.

“There are still issues around food safety in the community, just go and ask people in a supermarket,” he said. “And as we have seen in the Marsh-Baxter case, there are issues around organic and GM farmers’ right to co-exist.”

Mr West said that as a farmer his biggest concern was “the very real threat of widespread resistance to glyphosate (the herbicide used to make Roundup), which is the cornerstone of our farming system”.

“Our issue is with GM canola, not with GM crops,” he said.

Mr West said that Labor would support the growing of frost or salt-tolerant varieties of GM wheat in WA if it was used in ethanol production or proved beyond doubt to be safe for human consumption.

“That could spawn a whole ethanol industry that we would be crazy to turn our back on,” he said.

Export markets are highly sensitive to GM wheat, which has been the subject of research and field trials around the world but never grown commercially.

Mr Kruithoff said Monsanto was not working on GM wheat research in Australia and did not plan to start.

“Monsanto does have global research programs but none of them are planned for Australia.,” he said.

“Typically those programs take 10 years. We haven’t even started here and don’t have plans to do so.”

In March, Monsanto hit out when an arm of the World Health Organisation warned that glyphosate was a probable carcinogen.

Mr Kruithoff said the com-pany was still waiting for the International Agency on the Review of Cancer to release its final report, but maintained the determination was flawed.

He said the decision flew in the face of “the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence”.

The IARC added glyphosate to a list of “probable carcingen” that includes coffee and mobile phones.