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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16433

Mr SECKER (4:22 PM) —I take this opportunity to speak on a matter of great importance that in one way or another will affect every person living in this world now and in the future—and this concerns genetically modified organisms, otherwise known as GMOs. During the Industrial Revolution it was often said by people that it would not last and we would not find jobs for those who lost their jobs to machines. Those people not only were proved to be wrong but also failed to see that economies would grow as a result of these machines and provide more jobs in other areas. When the motor car arrived on the scene many said that only the rich would be able to afford this new toy, and of course Henry Ford proved them all wrong with his new way of manufacturing on the production line, which has since been refined. Plane travel was seen as unnatural and again as only the province of the rich. Again, they were proved wrong, with air travel being almost a commonplace occurrence for many people these days.

It is interesting to note the comments in the past and, with the wisdom of hindsight, to see how wrong people can be. Some decades ago the head of that famous computing company IBM thought that there would be fewer than 100 computers worldwide and that we would never see computers in the home. How wrong he was, and he was meant to be an expert. We have had the Industrial Revolution, the motor car, the aeroplane and the computer age. But many people are failing to recognise the next revolution of biotechnology which encompasses genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding this issue, with a lot of hype in the media with such misleading terms as Frankenstein foods and so on. It has disturbed me to see such shallow reporting on this issue, although I will say that Greg Kelton in the Adelaide Advertiser has so far taken a balanced approach to reporting this issue without the sensationalist approach taken by some of his colleagues.

The use of gene technology has the huge potential to benefit the primary producers in the electorate of Barker and elsewhere in Australia. The use of GMOs also has a huge potential to benefit consumers in Australia, which I will refer to later, and it will also lead to better production of agricultural products with enormous benefits to the problems of feeding the world and developing those countries which presently cannot feed their own. But firstly I want to rebut the scaremongering from those groups who continue to keep their heads in the sand and refuse to look at this subject logically. These people continue to oppose a genetic technique that not only is more precise than traditional methods of plant and animal production but also is safer because of the preciseness, the greater predictability. For example, if we were trying to introduce a frost resistant gene to a wheat variety by traditional methods, we would be crossing over 30,000 different genes, which leads to not only greater unpredictability but also slower progress. By the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering those involved can insert one frost resistant gene with greater accuracy, greater predictability and greater safety than the traditional method of crossing 30,000 genes.

Then the scaremongers will say: what about the unnatural process of inserting a fish gene into that wheat species? This dishonest mantra fails to recognise that all living matter, whether it is fish, wheat or human, is made up of DNA building blocks. In fact it is readily acknowledged, for instance, that humans and apes have 98 per cent of exactly the same genes and those DNA building blocks. But to these people this new technology is somehow unnatural, even though diabetics have been using genetically engineered insulin for at least 16 years in Australia, and this is done through pigs which are genetically engineered to produce the insulin that is so necessary for diabetics. Do we hear diabetics complain about genetically engineered insulin? Of course we do not. If those same people were here at the time of Louis Pasteur they would have opposed his treatment of smallpox by the injection of the cowpox virus into humans. `Heavens above,' they would say. `Fancy giving a cow disease to humans; that is unnatural.' Apart from the small negative reaction to the cowpox virus, humans receive the enormous benefit of immunity from the deadly smallpox disease.

Let me deal with the hoary chestnut that the use of GMOs in plant breeding will make the sky fall in because it will lead to superweeds, the destruction of beneficial insect populations, and the drenching of crops with insecticides and herbicides by farmers. I will deal, firstly, with the suggestion that the use of GMO techniques will lead to superweeds, and I will refer to a recent trial in Australia and to the triazine resistance already found in some crops such as canola. The Aventis company recently ran a trial of GMO canola and amongst 75,000 plants they found only two plants that were resistant to any chemical and that chemical was Liberty, which at this stage is not that commonly used anyway. The point is that there is a multitude of other chemicals that can be used on these resistant plants anyway. For quite a few years there has been triazine resistant canola grown throughout the world which enables greater flexibility in where canola can be grown on farms, especially where there are weeds such as turnip and radish present which come from the same family of brassica as canola. If these varieties of triazine resistant canola were produced by genetic modification, there would be opposition because of the supposed problem of producing superweeds. But because they were produced by traditional methods of breeding, somehow that is okay. These doomsayers are looking at the technique, not the actual product, and hence are not being consistent at all in looking at this new technology.

Then there is the claim that GMOs will lead to the destruction of beneficial insect populations apparently in comparison to existing methods of insect control. They refer to the Bt bacterium which is genetically inserted into such plants as cotton and they say that somehow this will lead to improper insect control. Bt is a naturally occurring bacterium with beneficial effects. In fact, because this gene attacks the insects that eat the plant, it only affects those detrimental insects, whereas more traditional methods of control are not anywhere near as selective as those presently employed in the agricultural industry. As for the claim that GMOs will lead to farmers drenching their crops with insecticides and herbicides, not only is that dishonest and alarmist but it has been proven time and again to be totally incorrect because there has been instead a substantial reduction in chemical use with GMO plants, to the point that some insecticides can be done without in total, and that has to benefit our environment.

These people do not want the facts to get in the way of a good story, no matter how dishonest it might be. Not only do they say that using Roundup Ready, a herbicide, will lead to the drenching of crops with insecticides, which of course is nonsense, but they say it will lead to greater use of chemicals overall, which is patently incorrect. The fact is that using insecticides on plants for weed control is useless because of course herbicides, not insecticides, control weeds. In fact, insecticides probably help weeds to grow because they would no longer be attacked by insects.

Doesn't the fact that GMOs are already reducing chemical use substantially point to the fallacy of these arguments? Doesn't it seem strange that it is the same old loony left elements that have controlled the minority campaigns of the past who are now controlling the agenda of anti-GMO sentiment in Australia? These same people are prepared to use dishonest literature to try to fool the general public. They try to convince farmers that the use of GMOs will reduce the ability to access export markets to such places as Europe but fail to tell them that there are already hundreds of thousands of hectares of GMO products being grown in Europe. Again, let us not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

The potential benefits of using genetic modification are almost boundless, for example, better productivity, which will help not only farmers in this country but those in other countries, especially the poorer developing countries. Less chemical use can only benefit our environment, and it seems strange that the so-called environmentalists oppose the use of GMOs. Allergens can be removed by the process of genetic modification. Frost resistance can be achieved to help those farms in areas, like mine, that are susceptible to frost. Biotechnological production of plants can be enhanced by GMOs, thereby making healthier food. The list of the benefits is virtually infinite. By the use of government regulation, through the gene technology regulator, we can be assured that this technology is safe and beneficial not only to consumers but also to farmers through the development of better productive abilities and less chemical use.

Another issue of concern to me has been the decision taken by ANZFA to try to make all foods that have GMOs, or are produced through the use of GMOs, be so labelled. I ask: why? This body is made up of the Australian government, the New Zealand government and the state and territory governments. Both the national governments oppose this ridiculous proposal, which could add $3 billion of extra costs to producers and manufacturers. (Time expired)