Farming group leaders on both sides of the Tasman have welcomed Green Party leader and Victorian Senator Richard Di Natale’s public statements regarding genetically modified crop science.
In a series of interviews, Senator Di Natale has opened the door to changing his party’s long-standing opposition to genetically modified organisms.
He told ABC radio that “the concerns are less around human health and much more around the application of the technology when it comes to giving farmers choice.”
In another interview with The Land he said he did “not have a blanket objection to the use of genetically modified crops” and that “it’s a bit simplistic to say GMO’s are safe or they’re not safe”.
In this country, Federated Farmers welcomed this shift in thinking by the Australian Green Party and encouraged New Zealand Greens to be equally open-minded about the benefits of genetic modification.
The feds’ media statement said:
“This is entirely in line with Federated Farmers’ position of giving farmers choice about what and how they farm, and assessing the benefits and risks of genetically modified organisms on a case-by-case basis,” says Federated Farmers National President Dr William Rolleston.
“It’s refreshing to see such an open minded approach from the Australian Greens on what we see as a key issue for the agricultural sector, and we encourage the NZ Green Party to also review their policy on genetic modification.”
“If you look at some of the biggest challenges facing farmers at the moment, such as drought and pressure from some quarters to reduce biological emissions. These are both things that likely have a scientific solution,” says Dr Rolleston.
Dr Rolleston said genetic modification has been used extensively around the world, to the benefit of farmers and the environment, without any incident of harm attributable to the GM aspects of the application.
“Although no crops using GM are approved or grown here yet, this vitally important science is being used successfully in New Zealand. GM products such as food enzymes, medicines and animal feed are now commonplace.
“We ask that the Greens open their minds to the agricultural sector also taking advantage of these rapidly evolving technologies,” he said.
in Australia, GrainGrowers chief executive Alicia Garden similarly said Senator Di Natale’s science and evidence-based approach to genetically modified (GM) crops was welcome news to advance the historically vexed debate.
According to this report in the North Queensland Register, Ms Garden said:
“You either choose to believe in science or not and if you believe in climate change and the science of climate change you should also support the science of plant breeding technologies,” she said.
“You are either a science sceptic or a science believer.
“You can’t just use one perspective to support your position then argue the same science is not applicable on another topic, just because it does not align with your views.”
Ms Garden said her group was writing a letter to Senator Di Natale on the GM crop issue and welcomed an opportunity to meet and explore the topic further.
But she said GrainGrowers disagrees with his comments on GM’s driving increased chemical and pesticide use but supported other policy views.
“One of the drivers behind GMs is to reduce the requirement for on-farm chemicals but we do support his views about transparent labelling because consumers should have a choice as to whether they eat GM foods or not,” she said.
“We also believe and absolutely agree with Senator Di Natale’s comments that all growers should have the choice as to whether they grow GM varieties or not based on their circumstances.”
The chairman of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association’s Western Graingrowers Committee, Gary McGill, said adhering to anti-GM crop policies or campaigns meant disregarding credible scientific evidence.
“To disregard the proven science is just a form of ideological madness – not petty politics – by the Greens or their representatives,” he said.
Mr McGill said the Greens had an ongoing challenge now to follow Senator Di Natale’s lead on GM crops science and shift policy.
“If there’s going to be any change of policy, I’ll only believe it when I see it,” he said.
“But the Greens are so deeply wedded in their opposition to rational science and logic I can’t see them changing their position on GMs.”
Mr McGill said the Green’s GM policy contradicted that of the federal Coalition and Labor.
He said West Australian grain farmers had adopted GM canola “overwhelmingly” each season after its commercial introduction in 2010.
“It’s not the be all and end all for grain growers but it’s a very valuable tool,” he said.
National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay said Senator Di Natale’s “sensible comments” acknowledged the underlying science of GM crops and deserved broad praise.
Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay said Senator Di Natale and his colleagues were welcome to visit cotton growers on-farm to see the “enormous benefits” biotechnology had brought their industry, “and, by extension, could bring to other areas of agriculture”.
“Cotton growers have been using biotechnology successfully in Australia for 19 years, with significant benefits to the environment, farmers and the communities they support,” he said.
“Australia’s cotton industry is the most water-efficient and highest-yielding in the world, and its success is reliant upon efficient farm management practices, including the benefits brought by biotechnology.
According to Mr Kay, a sound argument could be made that, without cotton biotechnology, Australia’s cotton industry would be a fraction of its size or even non-existent.