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Select Committee on Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Modified Crops in South Australia

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (16:28): I move:

The Select Committee on Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Modified Crops in South Australia received submissions and heard evidence from a broad range of people and organisations. Essentially, the inquiry took on the form of a debate. The arguments put forward were strongly divergent as to the importance, even imperative, of removing the moratorium, as opposed to those foretelling the risks inherent in such action. Fundamental to the divide was whether the science around GM technology is settled.

Those advocating the lifting of the ban acknowledge that when the moratorium was introduced in 2004 it was a cautionary measure in response to the initial release of GM technology. Some 15 years later, however, those seeking change believe that the restrictions are at odds with established science and economic modelling and are detrimental to South Australia's future prosperity. The impact on business and research led to appeals for it to be revoked.

Voices supporting the moratorium, however, have called on the committee to acknowledge the uncertainties around many aspects of GM processes and products. They argue that opposition to GM technology stems from genuine scientific, ethical and governance issues that have been ignored. Despite the biotech industry's attempt to manufacture certainty over some decades with assurances that there is no debate about the safety and need for GM technology, advocates believe the moratorium's removal would destroy the state's clean and green image and lead to widespread contamination and loss of market advantage.

Those mounting the case for the retention of the moratorium included organic farmers, the organic industry's peak bodies, societies and associations. For them, GM technology epitomised the very destruction of the industry, their livelihoods and chosen way of life. Additional support came from anti-GM organisations, academics and researchers offering statistical data on international marketing advantages for non-GM, the growing health and wellness sector and the innate hazards of GM technology.

The former minister of agriculture, food and fisheries stressed the current benefits and future potential of the state's clean, green, GM-free reputation, while the directors of two Japanese cooperatives, buyers of Kangaroo Island Pure Grain, accentuated the worth of the state remaining GM-free. Many individual submissions petitioned the committee to uphold the status quo.

Conversely, a host of representative bodies from the agricultural sector called loudly for the moratorium to be removed. In their view, the bans have not delivered benefits in terms of price premiums or market advantage but have hampered farmers and a range of associated industries, including research and development. If the moratorium remains in place, they argued that South Australia will fall even further behind in a highly competitive world.

While GM canola, currently available, offers advantages of higher yield, fewer chemicals and better weed management, for those seeking the moratorium's removal, the promise of emerging GM crops is coveted even more. Apart from farmers themselves, many agricultural bodies, agronomists, researchers, academics, grain handlers and a current and a former member of parliament all insisted that coexistence and segregation is possible. They contended that, if the state is to progress, and even resume its former high-rank standing in agricultural science, GM technology must be available.