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Food production in Australia

CHAIR —I welcome Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers. Would you like to make an opening statement and then we will ask you questions.

Mrs Newman —Thank you. I started this debate almost a decade ago. I started as pro GM and now I genuinely see it is the biggest threat to food and agriculture we have ever faced, because I specialise in research and, as you can see by my report that I have given you—it is all referenced—since I changed my stance, I have had nothing but confirmation in what I have looked at.

The submission touched briefly on corporate control and, if you look at what has happened, just because Monsanto wanted to do something with the factory sludge that they found was resistant to glyphosate—taking that gene out of that factory sludge, which was of course constantly exposed to glyphosate, and ramming it into the DNA of a plant gave that plant resistance to glyphosate.

You can do that very easily by non-GM means. It only took a year for enterprising drug barons to do that when they started aerial spraying of crops. But what it gives is a patent. What disturbs me most is that I have tried to do everything possible through the proper means, including Senate debate, particularly with Senator Cherry, through WA Farmers, and I was sacked unconstitutionally for something I did not do just before their anti-GM stance turned into a pro-GM stance. I had written evidence to show I had notified the media officer, and I was not speaking against policy. It was just totally wrong and very undemocratic. All the way through we have been faced with undemocratic processes and our concerns are being ignored.

What we are faced with now as farmers is that, not only are we to accept contamination and lose our markets, we are to pay for it. Since that report, I have had a prebriefing between CBH and Monsanto—that agreement. CBH is Cooperative Bulk Handling. They have not actually signed that yet. It was the prebriefing paper on the agreement and it was given to the GM advisory committee, of which I am a member. In that prebriefing paper CBH is to be paid extra for testing non-GM farmers’ loads and for receiving GM. So naturally that is a financial incentive for a company to deal with GM.

The test is sensitive to 0.5 per cent and, if it is positive, they are to impose a significant fine on us as non-GM farmers. Industry supposedly has already accepted 0.5 per cent in the seed we plant and 100 per cent of the offspring of any cross between a GM and a non-GM will be GM. So we are to have a significant cost imposed on us for having a positive test. Then that test strip is retained and given to Monsanto, who has the legal right under the end-point royalty system to deduct their user fee out of our grain payments. That is appalling and totally undemocratic. The reason government is pushing it is because of their policy that has allowed industry self-management and because their policy was set on how best to capitalise on their investments in GM and biotechnology research. It was not set on how best to look after farmers and consumers.

If you want to look at something about food, have a think about what will happen in the future when a single company such as Monsanto owns all of the plants that we sow, so all of the crops, all of the food, is down Monsanto’s single supply chain. It is extremely anticompetitive, but ACCC do not want a bar of it because it is policy of government to promote GM under industry self-management. This is happening. If you do not think it is happening in Western Australia, for example, all the public plant breeders have formed InterGrain and they work from Murdoch’s laboratory, which was funded by Monsanto on a $5 million grant. So they are working in a laboratory owned by Monsanto.

They are using patented technologies and intellectual property and equipment owned by Monsanto, under the same deal as CSIRO has, where they get to use them free of charge in exchange for confidential contracts. It appears very much that what is happening overseas is that, when GM is adopted, non-GM research ends, non-GM plants end. One hundred per cent of the seeds from InterGrain are sold through Nufarm’s fully owned subsidiary Crop Care. Nufarm is Australia’s partner for Monsanto. So corporate control is not a myth; it is real and it is setting up.

But as a consumer we want choice not only to avoid GM but we want choice down the track. We do not want to be told that a pre-packaged frozen meal is all that is going to be offered in our supermarket chains because that makes a corporate company the most money. That is where we are heading. We do not want fresh food and vegetables to be an unaffordable option controlled by a corporate company. We want choice, and that should not be denied by our government just because they have a vested interest in this technology.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is your objection to GM the ownership, the Monsanto bit, and not the health bit? You are wanting choice but you think that the way it is going, Monsanto will own everything and you will take their product, which is GM, or nothing.

Mrs Newman —It is multifaceted. There really are serious health impacts. If there were not, Monsanto would not be refusing to do independent testing.

Senator O’BRIEN —Would your opposition be equally as strong if somehow we could say, ‘Monsanto doesn’t own everything; it’s owned by 1,000 different companies.’ Would your objection be as strong?

Mrs Newman —It would not be as strong, because it is not so anticompetitive and you will have choice, but how can we have choice when there is a patent over a product?

Senator O’BRIEN —I get your point.

CHAIR —This committee will, in a lively way, look at all this, because I instigated an inquiry in another committee in which we are looking at human gene patenting. We took evidence the other day of a company in America which has taken $9 billion in licence fees for a blood product. The licence fee was three times the cost of delivery of the service. It is crazy.

Mrs Newman —That is what is going to happen to food. If you have a look at that graph there, that was prepared by—I cannot read it; you need your glasses—an international committee that looked very much into the GM debate and food in general. As the food price goes down, total food production increases but it reaches a stage where you have more and more undernourished as well. If it drops too far, you have farmers becoming the impoverished. This is a global study.

The corporate sector has realised how low they can go with the food price before the majority of farmers become impoverished. They do not care about the individual that has to face the seasonal conditions. They have worked that out, so they are just taking anything over and above. Our fertiliser bill this year is $860,000, which is rather large. But if they control the food, they remove all opposition, so upstream and downstream you will have no opposition.

CHAIR —That is a PowerPoint by the look of it. Can we get hold of it?

Mrs Newman —Yes, I do have a flash disk there. It is basically a summary of some changes and the GRDC trials showing the GM crops.

CHAIR —Can you flick that to us so we can read it?

Mrs Newman —So you can read it now?

CHAIR —No, not now; just so we do not need our glasses.

Mrs Newman —Yes, that is why I printed these out.

Senator STERLE —How many members are there of the Network of Concerned Farmers?

Mrs Newman —We are what we say we are; we are a network of concerned farmers, so what we do is network. I put everything on our website.

Senator STERLE —So you have no membership?

Mrs Newman —No, we do not. It is not about that; it is about distributing information to farmers.

Senator STERLE —I understand that, and thank you for that. All I am trying to establish is, are there more of you that are concerned about GM than there are that want it?

Mrs Newman —Yes.

Senator STERLE —I know there are a couple that have put their hand up to trial, aren’t there?

Mrs Newman —Yes, but those farmers are being told it is going to yield more. They have been told constantly, ‘A 30 per cent increase in yield’. All the government reports, the ABARE reports, have been funded by the Biotechnology Strategy which has an aim to promote GM.

CHAIR —That’s rubbish!

Mrs Newman —It is not. It’s written on there!

CHAIR —No, the yield is rubbish.

Mrs Newman —Yes.

CHAIR —Canola yield; that’s garbage!

Mrs Newman —As you can see by the GRDC trials on page 2 down the bottom—

CHAIR —I do not have see it.

Mrs Newman —What is disturbing is that it was worse in the Victorian trials that were under drought than it was under the New South Wales ones. That is what is happening globally. It appears to be worse in drought.

CHAIR —We are canola growers. There is no difference in the yield.

Mrs Newman —I know. It only gives you resistance to—

CHAIR —Sorry to cut across you and your opening statement, but one of the problems that we have is the reverse legal onus.

Mrs Newman —That is exactly right.

CHAIR —That squares it away. Between the reverse legal onus and the imposition in the future of a terminated gene, it has closed the book.

Mrs Newman —Yes. We do not care what anyone else does. We really mind if it affects our economic viability.

CHAIR —And the contamination, especially in canola, is outrageous.

Mrs Newman —But you imagine wheat! No market in the world will accept GM wheat, unless it is an extremely low price. If one person grows it commercially, overnight the market perception is that Western Australia will have GM, will sell GM—or whichever state—and we have to prove that it is GM-free. That process is too difficult and too expensive to do because you destroy it in the process and it is zero. There is no tolerance level accepted. It is zero, because to label ‘non-GM’ means no contamination, no GM. Germany is the only country that has legislated what is non-GM over in Europe. They are still discussing it. But to label something as non-GM over in Europe means zero.

CHAIR —But you could have industrial sabotage under this scheme.

Mrs Newman —That is exactly what it is: industrial sabotage. Yet farmers are being told that this is the best thing since sliced bread, and it is that misinformation from the researchers and government policies that is so disturbing.

CHAIR —We have received evidence that we have fallen off the pace in agricultural research and development. In fact, we have been given a proposition by the University of Western Sydney that perhaps we ought to be adopting a different model altogether for the department of agriculture. I have to say that, if you see what has gone on with the CSIRO and the temptation to go and do your research in someone’s laboratory who is going to pay you handsomely for the research and then commercialise it for you and give you a licence fee—

Mrs Newman —Yes, and all the spin-off industries attached. But that is the problem with the national competition policy. Suddenly public plant breeders that never made any money have got to try and make money. How can that happen? You are not going to have a corporate waltz in and fund an unprofitable business such as plant breeding. They want a very good return on their money.

CHAIR —No, they are going to smash it all. All the crop research stations in New South Wales have been shut down because they have all gone to this monopoly set-up.

Senator MILNE —I would like to follow up on some remarks you have made about the CSIRO. There has been real concern in the broader community about the previous Chief Scientist’s, and also the CSIRO’s, push into GE. Can you give us a real sense of whether there is any work at all happening in the CSIRO—that is, in plant breeding R&D—that is not related to it, or has it essentially been squeezed out by this focus on GE?

Mrs Newman —That is something I would like the Senate to do: to investigate the anticompetitive practice of these confidential agreements that public plant breeders have. What happened was that Monsanto, when internationally it adopted the Trade Related Intellectual Property or TRIPs agreement, set about purchasing the rights and intellectual property over most of the discoveries of plant breeding, and the US government also was quite big in that purchase.

Now they own a lot of the required intellectual property, particularly of biotechnology. You could use biotechnology to produce non-GM varieties, but if Monsanto owns that—this is happening globally—the public organisations cannot pay the money for that, so they cut a deal with Monsanto, which CSIRO and our public plant breeders have done, where they allow free use of that intellectual property in return for confidential contracts. It appears the terms of those confidential contracts are to add a Roundup Ready gene or a Monsanto gene to every variety produced and for a Monsanto alliance partner or Monsanto to be the sole seed distributor.

Senator MILNE —So you are saying that you think CSIRO’s secret contract has that in it?

Mrs Newman —Yes. I have a freedom of information inquiry under way at the moment but it has been extremely difficult digging it up. This started in 1998. But CSIRO and Monsanto set up partnership deals in cotton. They became a commercial partner with each other in the GM cotton.

Senator MILNE —So what is actually in that agreement is something that this committee could certainly pursue.

Mrs Newman —Yes.

Senator MILNE —If, indeed, that agreement for access to the intellectual property is that this gene is inserted into all plant breeding work done by CSIRO, that is effectively, by stealth, altering Australian agriculture forever.

Mrs Newman —Yes. I was a good friend of Maarten Stapper who was sacked from CSIRO. Whenever he mentioned anything against GM he was hauled in front of the office and told he cannot make those statements. He fought them and gradually was moved into a smaller and smaller office. This is the problem. Every industry is being told they are either in with Monsanto or out. With CBH it is disturbing that our farmer owned organisation is told, ‘Monsanto is going to deal with you or they’re not going to deal with anybody.’ If you look at that agreement, it is also very anticompetitive, because now the researchers are being told who to market the product to.

This is already happening through InterGrain. They are already forming something to choose who markets their product. It is a new soft wheat variety. This is in Monsanto’s agreement with CBH. They decide who markets the GM canola. I have brought in some pretty pictures here of the supply chain. At the moment we have got a lot of choice. That is on page 3. We can deal upstream and downstream with whoever we want and that gives consumers a choice. But—and those contracts are there—if you lock all the food that farmers grow into a single supply chain, your choice is going to be removed. I love that in the CBH agreement they referred to growers as ‘Monsanto growers’ or ‘non-Monsanto growers’. Gradually, you will become a Monsanto consumer or a Monsanto storage and handler. It is total control.

CHAIR —We have got a fertiliser inquiry which is also looking at chemicals, which we really have not got into. I note with interest in the Roundup peak that what happened with the generic Gladiator type glyphosate which comes out of China was that the dear old people that had the Roundup Ready Monsanto product discovered that the chemical composition was slightly different from the generic product and their plants were not Roundup Ready.

Mrs Newman —I did not realise that.

CHAIR —There was a trip to China to have a talk about the generic product. So this is tying up a market to a chemical as well as a seed regime. Obviously there is resistance to the terminator gene at this stage and once you put the terminator gene in you have got the game locked up.

Mrs Newman —You are still going to have an outcrossing of that terminator gene. We do not want our crops to be infertile either.

CHAIR —And the reverse legal onuses. It is crazy. This committee will look very deeply and succinctly at all these issues that you are raising because it certainly has a lot to do with the future and where we are all going. It fits in with and uses almost the same language as the human gene stuff.

Mrs Newman —We really do need an ability to stop GM release based on commercial grounds. It should not be controlled from the research sector.

CHAIR —It is interesting to tie it up with the likes of CSIRO et cetera.

Senator FISHER —Mrs Newman, thank you for your work and the work that your network does. It is very important to assist with dissemination of information, particularly amongst the farming community. In answer to Senator Sterle, who was asking about your membership, you indicated you do not have members per se. You are spokesperson for the organisation. What authorisation do you get from the network prior to saying what you say about the concerns that your network has?

Mrs Newman —I send out emails. We have got reps in each state. We have around 1,500 hits a day on our website, and I have done all that myself, so I send the reps any new information. We seem to be saying the same old thing a lot, but if it is a new statement I send it out to the state reps and then they send me feedback. But we are exactly what we say we are. We are a network. We do not come out with anything radical. I am not a radical greenie. We owned a contract crop spraying business for almost 20 years, we owned one of the largest seed grading factories in the state and we have got a 10,000-hectare farm. We have not done that by sitting around cross-legged smoking dope.

Senator FISHER —If I may, Mrs Newman: for example, your submission to this committee, the one dated October last year—

Mrs Newman —Sorry. They are the accusations I have been getting.

Senator MILNE —If I can just intervene: there is a point of order, Chair. There is an implication there about Greens that I do not think is appropriate.

Mrs Newman —I am sorry. It is what I have been accused of being—a dope-smoking Luddite.

CHAIR —I often refer to people who plait their armpits and smoke pot. It is part of the business.

Mrs Newman —That is what I was referring to.

Senator MILNE —I find it offensive, actually.

Mrs Newman —Yes. I do apologise.

CHAIR —I apologise for any offence, but I just think it is a nice throwaway line.

Senator MILNE —Well, it is not.

CHAIR —Of course it is. Back to you, Mrs Newman.

Mrs Newman —I am sorry. We get a lot of very false accusations towards us for standing up for the community.

CHAIR —Just to put it on the record, I have applied to join the Greens but they will not have me! Senator Fisher.

Senator FISHER —Enough said! Thank you, Chair. Mrs Newman, in respect of your submission made to this committee and dated October 2008, did you get positive sign-off, positive authorisation?

Mrs Newman —Yes, most definitely.

Senator FISHER —In that case, from whom?

Mrs Newman —From our state elected people. We have started our own group.

Senator FISHER —How are they elected?

Mrs Newman —When we first started, it was only a small group, so we just became state reps. It is all on our own work, the work we have done.

Senator FISHER —Are they self-elected?

Mrs Newman —We just turned up at a committee. We held a meeting for anyone that was interested. We held the original meeting, the inaugural meeting, and then we elected—

Senator FISHER —When was that?

Mrs Newman —In 2002 I think we started up. So we have just been state reps. It is all our own doing. We are not riding on anyone else’s back. We have stayed the same state reps doing the same work.

Senator FISHER —Thank you. In terms of your organisation’s anti-GM advocacy, my simple question is: is your organisation saying ‘no GM production at all for Australia’ or are you saying ‘GM production only subject to all these protections’?

Mrs Newman —Yes.

Senator FISHER —It is the latter?

Mrs Newman —It always has been that. It always has been fair risk management. That is what our logo is. We are just asking for fair risk management, which we do not think is unreasonable.

Senator FISHER —That is indeed very important to know, to equip us to take this debate forward as part of the work we do. Can I, therefore, focus on the concerns expressed in your submission, and which you expressed in answer to Senator Milne, about there being a single supply chain—and they were appropriately expressed concerns—for example, what will be the choice and price for food if it is controlled by a single supply chain? You run the argument that competition is retained in food supply because farmers have the choice to buy and sell, essentially, from more than one.

If those premises be correct—and they may well be—isn’t your organisation risking creating a self-defeating prophecy in advocating strongly anti-GM? Isn’t it better that we be in the GM marketplace to better position Australia to then be able to research and appropriately focus on genetically modified seed issues, firstly? Secondly, aren’t we also left out of the equation in trying to build protections around the very important issues that you raise, which are, if these premises be correct, to ensure that there is not a single supply chain into the future?

Mrs Newman —Firstly, what GM crops are of any benefit at the moment? In Australia we have radish and rye-grass.

Senator FISHER —How are you defining ‘benefit’?

Mrs Newman —A benefit to farmers. That is what you are meant to be having, a benefit to farmers. Do we want it? Look at canola. You need to actually look at the benefit, the alternative, the risk and the risk management needed. That is how we usually address things. If you look at GM Roundup Ready canola, the only benefit is that you can spray the plant between the two- and six-leaf stage. It does not control our worst weeds, because with rye-grass you get the worst problem on emergence, so you actually use a different chemical, Treflan, to cover that. Your radish pops up after the six-leaf stage. There is no post-emergent option for radish, and you have a quality control problem.

What benefits do you have? None. It actually removes the benefit of your canola rotation, because the idea is to use a different chemical group, and you are back using glyphosate and Treflan, which is what you use in your cereals. So there is not much point. There is really no benefit, but farmers think there is a yield benefit because they are told there is a 30 per cent increase in yield.

CHAIR —That is rubbish!

Mrs Newman —It is absolute rubbish. We have always asked, ‘Why should it be?’ because it only gives you resistance to glyphosate. It is only ramming a gene into a non-GM plant, and farmers do not realise it because they have been lied to constantly—and I mean lied to, not just misled—by those who invested in—

Senator FISHER —How do we insert ourselves into the debate so that mistruths are not able to be told by one source to a community?

Mrs Newman —The federal government should look at the reports coming out of ABARE, because they are basing all their economic reports on an increase in yield that is not there and they do not take into account the extra cost. Last year the extra cost, if we were to plant 1,000 hectares, was $71,000. If we compared the brand-new seed of non-GM—the highest priced seed we could get—that is an extra $71,000. This year it has gone up more, and if we replanted our own seed it is $114,000 extra, meaning we would need an increase in yield of around 20 per cent. If we are going to have an increase in the price of seed along the lines of Canada, where there has been a 600 per cent increase in cost, that is an extra $1.596 million. That is for 1,000 hectares.

This just does not make sense. So why is ABARE coming out and saying, ‘We’ve got to have this technology’? That is rubbish. There are only two traits commercialised: there is BT for cotton and corn, where the plant produces its own insecticide to kill budworm and bollworm, or your herbicide tolerant, which you can get by non-GM. It is absolute rubbish. There is no drought tolerance; they are not being left behind. What the researchers are talking about—being left behind—is not using Monsanto’s patented technology on non-GM plant breeding techniques. That is what we need to look at.

Senator FISHER —To arrive at that point, are we not better off finding a way to insert ourselves into the production chain, let alone the debate, so that we have a real stake in ensuring that we can prevent that end point where there is single supply and monopoly?

Mrs Newman —At the moment all the public plant breeders have sold us out. As CSIRO said back in 1999, it is best to get in bed with these companies.

Senator FISHER —Are you familiar with the trials that are happening in the south-east of South Australia?

Mrs Newman —Which trials? The GM wheat trials?

Senator FISHER —Growth of genetically modified crops and seeds. While South Australia has a moratorium, there are approvals that have been given by the state government to trial—

Mrs Newman —Yes, they are actually Bayer’s trials. They are not trials at all. Bayer is growing InVigor canola to export to Canada so that they can grow it off season.

Senator FISHER —Okay. There are some trials.

Mrs Newman —It is nothing to do with trials.

Senator FISHER —Maybe I will leave that.

Mrs Newman —They have been going on for five years. I am not sure which trials you are talking about.

Senator FISHER —Fair enough! I have one further question. Your submission talks about, into a GM future, a whole lot of conditions and risk management strategies, and you include:

Independent health testing to allay consumer fears or to identify and address any problems found.

Are there health fears?

Mrs Newman —Most definitely.

Senator FISHER —Sorry, wrong question. Are there health realities or is it health fears?

Mrs Newman —It is health fears. There have been people dying all around the place. What of? They have lots of diseases. Globally there has been an increase in allergies. There was a doubling of allergies to soy when GM soy was introduced to the UK. When the UK wanted to prove that there were no health problems, they employed Arpad Pusztai, who was the best person they could find, and did a prearranged test. Six months into that three-year testing, he went public saying, ‘Don’t eat it. We’ve really got some serious problems here.’ He was sacked and discredited, and it was found that £140,000 was paid by Monsanto into Rowett university that week.

This has been identified globally as a pretty major problem: they are not finishing the tests that they want. I do have a list of adverse health findings. What I find interesting is on page 46 of Monsanto’s 2008 US user contract on GM canola where they say:

It is recommended that Roundup Ready Winter Canola not be grazed. … at the present time insufficient information exists to allow safe and proper grazing recommendations.

If they are not letting the stock graze—which is actually penned up and where you can see the problems—why are they letting it out? Why are they saying it is safe for consumers? If you look at our regulatory authority, if you squash canola, you have oil or meal. Oil is not tested at all and the meal is stock food which is not regulated. FSANZ has no authority over stock food. So Monsanto has chosen not to give the information required to allay consumer fears.

CHAIR —Could I at this point in time declare an interest to this committee. I am a canola grower and I grow non-GM canola. If anyone else wants to make a declaration, please do.

Senator FISHER —Similar.

Senator NASH —Same.

Mrs Newman —That is excellent. It is good that you are farmers. Thank you.

Senator STERLE —Mrs Newman, you obviously put in a lot of work and a lot of research and it is not just something you have been interested in in the last couple of weeks. When I picked up the West Australian a couple of months ago, I saw a couple of farmers jumping over the moon because they had an opportunity to grow GM canola. Do you touch base with those people and request their time to have a chat to them?

Mrs Newman —Yes. I have contacted them. There is a very big public relations campaign, and I have seen it gradually getting stronger and stronger. It has a football team mentality. It is like somebody from the Eagles ringing you up and saying, ‘Come to a Dockers meeting.’ You are just not going to listen. That is what has disturbed some people. The GRDC trials are the first footy match, but what they are believing is, ‘Oh, somebody must have cheated along the way for that to happen.’ They have been barracking for this team because that is what is promoted. You are in if you are promoting GM and you are out and ostracised as a radical, greenie Luddite if you are not. That is what is so disturbing.

Many times I have been called a radical, greenie Luddite sitting cross-legged under a tree, smoking dope. It is just outrageous, but that is the attitude that is pushed. I have been on the Grains Council of Australia’s policy council and seed committee. I have seen that push. I am the only one that can go over there and find that I have no room booked and no seat booked. You are out if you are not pushing GM, and that is the whole of industry. That public relations campaign is extremely well established. You can read their book. Irvine has got a very good book about how to do it.

Senator STERLE —Okay, but from the growers’ point of view, this is just a chance to get a greater yield.

Mrs Newman —Yes. For some reason they think that the whole plant is different. They do not see it as a plant that has only had a Roundup Ready gene added to it. The GM industry said, ‘We’ve got this new high-oleic/low-linoleic canola.’ It is non-GM. It is not GM. They have just added a Roundup Ready gene to it, so that is non-GM. All the improvements in research are non-GM, so all the consumer traits that they are breeding, that have been improving the soy et cetera, are non-GM. They have just added their Roundup Ready gene to it.

CHAIR —The longer term problem, and what we want to look at, is the cost of the patenting and the restriction on other researching where you have got the patent, which is exactly the same issue we are going through with the human gene patenting.

Mrs Newman —They are taking human genes and putting them into rice to give you multiple resistance in rice.

CHAIR —I am aware of that.

Mrs Newman —That is a bit bizarre for a GM crop.

CHAIR —They are doing that with cows in New Zealand, by the way.

Senator MILNE —Mrs Newman, you began by saying that you had begun this with a pro-GMO stance and then changed. What was the key factor? At what point did you change? What was it that made you realise that things were not as they seemed?

Mrs Newman —They key thing was working out the difference between biotechnology and GM. Biotechnology is great; GM is not. I did not realise it was any different, and most people do not.

Senator MILNE —Is the key that we have to make people understand that, if they do not support GE, it does not mean that they are not supportive of biotechnology?

Mrs Newman —Yes, that is right.

Senator MILNE —And education around what constitutes plant breeding and improvement in the traditional sense as opposed to a GE?

Mrs Newman —Yes. If I had more time up my sleeve, I would breed a non-GM glyphosate tolerant canola in a year. I could do it, if I wanted to. All you need do is what they did in the cocoa plantations: spray it out with glyphosate and then breed the two together and voila. Eighty per cent of GM crops grown globally are Roundup Ready, so end of debate if you can do it by non-GM means. But it is the alliance with plant breeders that is behind it all, and it is the patent. You remove that patent on GM and you remove the drive to force GM on a reluctant population.

CHAIR —Is there anything you would like to provide us with to educate us on that? Do you have any paperwork?

Mrs Newman —I am sure you are very well educated on the whole issue. Is there anything in particular?

CHAIR —That defines that argument.

Mrs Newman —With the biotechnology? Yes.

Senator MILNE —This is about public awareness and public information. Raising awareness of the differences and subtleties is really important in this argument because it is too easy to confuse them. So we are just asking: are you aware of any really good materials? Who is doing this kind of work?

Mrs Newman —That is where I headed, because I tend to see things in a great big box, so I started right down there at the basics of what it actually was, and that is when I realised, ‘Heck! Everything we are being told is biotechnology.’ I am pretty sure that somewhere in that paper is a list of all the non-GM biotechnology. All this gene sequencing is a non-GM technique where they are using GM in the lab to speed up plant breeding techniques. So all we have got are two traits. It has been commercially released for 13 years. They have not been able to do anything else. And when something reaches proof-of-concept stage, like this salt tolerant wheat, that does not mean it is salt tolerant; it just means that it did not die. It does not mean that it is any better than non-GM, or anything.

CHAIR —But a patent is supposed to be about an invention, not a discovery, isn’t it?

Mrs Newman —That is the problem with the GM and that is why they are hitting the GM.

CHAIR —That is the problem with the human gene argument.

Mrs Newman —Yes.

CHAIR —They are trying to say that a discovery is an invention, but it is not.

Mrs Newman —That is the thing with the GM. There is a difference.

CHAIR —They are trying to patent the discovery instead of the invention.

Mrs Newman —Why this is so different is because the researchers can stake a claim in the gene sequence in anything. If they like your eyebrows, they might take the eyebrow gene out and start forming a person.

CHAIR —Just out of interest, there are 15,000 patents on the human body.

Mrs Newman —You’re joking! Already? They are doing that now with all the crops. They are running out to all the old varieties and trying to patent different gene sequences. Bill Crabtree and Ian Edwards formed a company, Green Blueprint, and they bought the rights of Antarctic hairgrass. When you look at who else is a partner in that, there are something like 20 partners commercially before they even start, so there is no way a farmer will make money out of that, because all of those partners want a very good return on their investment.

CHAIR —Just to further inform the committee, because there is some crossover with human gene, there are parts of the world—Brazil is one—that do not recognise the patenting regime for human patents.

Mrs Newman —Yes. What has happened in Brazil, though, is that it has an end-point royalty system the same as we do. They signed the UPOV 91 international treaty that allowed an end-point royalty. What is happening in Brazil is the same as what is expected of us: the first couple of years the farmers delivered their grain and did a positive test. If it was a positive test, they had to pay the fine plus the grain payment. Then Monsanto said it cost too much to do the test, so now every single farmer pays the royalties. It is a tax on all the grain you deliver and it goes to one company.

CHAIR —It is a great temptation for lazy governments to do away with public research.

Mrs Newman —That is where the problem is. What has happened is that you have done away with public research grants.

CHAIR —Farrer and those fellows would not be recognised today for the public-good side of their research.

Mrs Newman —What happened is very similar to the drug industry, when you brought in patenting and intellectual property and suddenly, instead of freely trading information globally, you have to buy everything. It becomes too price prohibitive. With the TRIPs agreement the research sector has been locked in where it is extremely expensive. You may need something like 50 patents involved in forming one variety. It is too expensive.

CHAIR —Under the TRIPs and the FTA that we have with America, there is the capacity for a government to prevent the patent of the gene in certain public-good areas. It is recognised. This is me crossing over to another inquiry, but there is a lot in common.

Mrs Newman —With the agreement, the 2000 Biotechnology Strategy, what happened when it was allowed as industry self-management, which means Monsanto writes the rules for release?

CHAIR —None of this has been tested in court. The human gene stuff has not been to court. It has been by convention and agreement rather than law. IP Australia have made their own rules. That is what we have discovered.

Mrs Newman —This is the problem with industry self-management. Letting them write their own rules is wrong.

CHAIR —That is exactly what has happened with human gene patents. They have written their own rules that have never been tested in court. We must finish. We are grateful to you and I do not think we have finished with you. Thanks very much.

Mrs Newman —Thank you very much. I do appreciate your time.

[12.18 pm]