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Minister is angry that Monsanto will close GM canola program.

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Wednesday 12 May 2004

Minister is angry that Monsanto will close GM canola program


MARK COLVIN: Opponents of genetically modified canola in Australia appear to have won th eir battle. After six years of research, the biotechnology company Monsanto is withdrawing investment in its GM canola brand in Australia. 


The oil seed is modified to resist the herbicide Roundup. Monsanto's Roundup Ready cotton was commercialised in 2001.  


Last December, the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved Roundup Ready canola as safe for consumption and the environment. 


Now, after most State governments have imposed moratoriums or bans on commercial GM canola, the company's Australian arm has left it to the Federal Government to break the news that it's pulling out. 


Environment groups are hailing the decision as a win for consumers, but the Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss is angry. He says State governments have caused a major loss to Australia. 


He spoke to Nonée Walsh.


WARREN TRUSS: Their opportunities to market their technology are being thwarted, but I think that will have very serious implications for the Australian canola industry. It's a $750-million industry, and if it's going to be denied access to the best available technology, it simply in time will not be able to compete with producers in North and South America, China and other places that do have access to the best available varieties. 


NONÉE WALSH: But isn't marketing the issue? The markets don't seem to want GE canola. 


WARREN TRUSS: Well there's no evidence to support that claim. There have been several studies undertaken, both in Western Australia and by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture Resource Economics that have found no identified premiums available for GM-free canola. Indeed the Canadians, who are largely GM producers now, are still the dominant suppliers of canola and they don't seem to be too many barriers to them finding markets for their product. 


NONÉE WALSH: What do you think has motivated Monsanto? I mean it is odd, is it not, that this decision comes literally on top of their decision to pull out of GM wheat, and they did pull out of that on the grounds that the markets do not want it. 


WARREN TRUSS: Well I'm not surprised that they've chosen to leave. You can't expect companies to go on investing millions of dollars on research if they can't be assured of using the products that they're developing, even if they've been proven to be safe.  


I find it quite ironic that the State governments in Australia are falling over themselves to be the biotechnology centre of excellence but they won't allow that technology to be used once it's been developed.  


These products have been identified by the gene technology regulator and been established to be safe. Closing the door time and time again to the introduction of new technology is essentially telling the technology companies that they're not welcome in Australia. 


NONÉE WALSH: It is true, though, is it not, Minister, that it's the State government that has to look at whether there would be any cost by introducing the GM product, and certainly it's arguable that any nearby organic farmer would suffer a cost in terms of loss of their product. 


WARREN TRUSS: Well organic farming is a different issue again from GM and conventional technology, but the States do certainly have a right under the Constitution to determine land planning issues, and they have in many cases introduced zoning entitlements to deal with these sorts of issues. But essentially what's happened in most States has been one moratoria after another and so there's no confidence that this kind of process will ever come to an end.  


We have in place the tightest regulatory regime anywhere in the world, but that's not proving to be enough because the moratoria at State levels are preventing the technology from being put into use in Australia. Now that is clearly going to have implications for Australian agriculture and if will fall behind other countries in the available technology, then clearly those industries will not be able to succeed in Australia. 


MARK COLVIN: The Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss talking to Nonée Walsh.