A NEW report prepared
for the Federal Government of Australia on genetically modified
canola crops is being used to support the lifting of state bans
on growing commercial GM canola. Federal Agriculture Minister Peter
McGauran says this report confirms that GM canola would offer significant
economic and agronomic benefits for Australian farmers.
Yet the report contains no new revelations, and
even acknowledges the possible market advantages of remaining GM-free
and the continued strong public opposition to GM food.
The introduction of moratoriums in most states
that began in 2003 were largely based on economic and trade considerations,
with farmers, farmers' organisations, processors and food marketers
concerned about the loss of overseas markets and the loss of the
price premiums being received for non-GM canola crops.
The report acknowledges that there may still be
price premiums and greater market opportunities for non-GM crops.
The European Union has maintained its ban on the importing of GM
canola seeds, and many food companies prefer non-GM canola for human
consumption because of consumer rejection of GM foods. Of the 20
canola-producing countries, only Canada and the United States grow
GM crops and this amounts to just 17 per cent of global canola production.
One problem with growing GM canola is that the
engineered genes quickly contaminate the fields of non-GM canola,
as has happened in Canada and the US. So many conventional non-GM
farmers as well as organic farmers oppose the introduction of GM
canola and other crops.
In 2003, the decision to impose state bans on
GM canola was made in the context of strong and continuing public
opposition to GM foods, with surveys around the world confirming
that most citizens do not want to eat GM foods.
The varieties of GM canola licensed to be commercially
grown if the bans are lifted are herbicide-tolerant varieties. Monsanto,
the world's biggest seed company, owns the Roundup-tolerant varieties
and Bayer, the world's biggest agri-chemical, company owns the Basta-tolerant
These GM crops are engineered to survive being
sprayed with chemical weedkillers that would otherwise kill the
crop itself. Herbicide-tolerant crops are thereby being used to
expand the range of situations in which, and the doses of, chemical
herbicides that can be applied.
As weeds related to canola - radish, turnip and
charlock - also become resistant to the herbicides, other even more
toxic chemicals will be used. GM crops offer, at best, a Band-Aid
solution to weed-management problems or other agro-ecological crises
facing chemical-industrial farmers.
Aside from some narrow and questionable economic
and agronomic benefits, the bigger question is what else we are
committing to when we open the door to GM canola and other food
First, there are new health and ecological risks.
The genetic modification of plants to introduce new agronomic traits
may also induce other changes in the plant and the ultimate food
product. Few independent studies have been conducted into the safety
of GM foods, yet our food regulators continue to approve these foods
for environmental release and human consumption largely based on
data supplied by the companies that own these GM seeds. GM crops
also introduce an entirely new form of pollution into the environment:
Second, GM crops enable the continuation and extension
of chemical-industrial agricultural practices, and may exacerbate
some of the existing ecological problems associated with them. For
example, GM crops introduce a higher level of uniformity into food
crops, and accelerate the erosion of seed diversity and other forms
Genetic engineering is essentially a tool for
fine-tuning chemical-industrial agriculture, rather than offering
ecologically sustainable alternatives to it, and further locks farmers
into this system of production.
Third, genetic engineering is allowing the further
concentration in corporate ownership and control of the agri-food
system. GM seeds are patented and controlled by a handful of global
corporations. These corporations not only own the seeds, but also
the chemical inputs that these seeds require to perform as intended.
Farmers must pay "technology fees" on top of the price
of the seeds, and are also asked to sign contracts that stipulate
how these seeds are to be used. GM technology brings the total control
of the global food supply within reach of this handful of global
To accept the introduction of GM crops is to allow
what will amount to a significant shift in the structures and practices
of agricultural production. I refer to this in terms of a broader
shift from a chemical-industrial to a genetic-corporate system of
agri-food production. The development of new nanotechnologies for
agri-food production - such as nano-chemical pesticides - is likely
to reinforce these agro-ecological and socio-economic trends.
Opposing GM crops and maintaining the state bans
on GM canola is a way of resisting the genetic-corporate and nano-corporate
takeover of the global agri-food system, and of maintaining a space
in which alternative, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable
ways of producing and sharing seeds, crops and foods may flourish.