Grow GM crops or face strife
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
By Mark Metherell
Australia is falling behind in the rapid world growth of more productive biotech crops, such as drought-tolerant and pest resistant strains, the former deputy prime minister Anderson says.
"Food versus fuel" fights over the diversion of crops to biofuels threaten to hit Australia unless this country dramatically upgrades crop development, John Anderson believes.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
The Nationals MP has called for a rethink on the states` bans against genetically-modified food crops. "If we are going to avoid an ugly stand-off over food versus fuel, we are going to have to spend a lot more on plant research . because it is very likely that a large part of the answer on renewable energy will be biofuels," Mr Anderson told the Herald.
The huge potential for genetically modified crops, including the use of non-grain crops and residues to supplement oil as a fuel, was being lost to Australia because of irrational fears.
"Many of the current bans have been driven by concern about the unknown and fears of the so-called `Frankenstein food` factor but the reality is more and more GM crops are being grown around the world."
Australia has about 200,000 hectares planted in biotech crops, most of it modified cotton, compared with the estimated total world area of more than 100 million hectares, half of it in the United States.
The local distaste for modified foods meant Australia was "a First World country growing Third World crops", said another Government MP, Mal Washer.
Vaccines in bananas, modified peanuts free of a potentially lethal allergen, vitamin A in rice and grains containing therapeutic Omega 3 fish oil were all possible, but out of bounds in Australia, Dr Washer said.
Australians would not eat modified food yet happily injected themselves with genetically modified medicines, such as insulin, he said.
Dr Washer, who raised the issue at the Coalition party room meeting yesterday, told the Herald later that the federal and state governments needed to counter irrational barriers to modified food.
State governments, including NSW, have imposed moratoriums on genetically modified crops, because of crop contamination and export marketing concerns, despite an approval granted by the federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator in 2003 for commercial cultivation of a modified strain of herbicide-tolerant canola.
Genetically modified foods can be sold in Australia provided they are labelled as such, but only a "tiny number" of modified products, mostly imported, are sold, according to the regulatory agency Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
The CSIRO says no evidence has been found anywhere of risks from eating genetically modified foods. "If food prices are to remain low in real terms, advantage must be taken of advances in all stages of the food production chain, including GM plants and animals," the CSIRO said.
Mr Anderson said a taste of the explosive potential of the food versus fuel conflict was already being experienced elsewhere.
Mexicans had rioted over tortilla prices driven up by demand for corn to produce biofuel. Unrest had broken out in South Africa over competition for sorghum, used to make beer and its growing role as a biofuel.
Mr Anderson, who retires from politics at this year`s federal election, says his priority is to campaign for Australia to expand its effort on the development of new generation food and fuel plants.
"This will turn into a race between food and fuel," he said, unless Australia grappled with the latest technology in food and biofuel production that would be of crucial significance to drought-hit Australia.
On a visit to the US, he said he saw drought-tolerant crops which produced more grain and biomass with less water than required by conventional crops.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald.