Moratoriums on commercial cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops in Australia should be lifted, according to a report prepared by the Agriculture and Food Policy Reference Group (AFPRG) and submitted to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in February 2006.
Several GM food products are consumed in Australia but only GM cotton and GM blue carnations are grown commercially. Notwithstanding the Commonwealth’s national biotechnology strategy to develop biotechnology in Australia and the approval of two licences for GM herbicide-tolerant canola varieties for commercial release by Australia’s Gene Technology Regulator, five Australian states and the Australian Capital Territory have moratoriums (of varied stringency) on the commercial cultivation of GM crops. Resulting confusion has led to the withdrawal of investment for agricultural research and development in Australia by some companies.
The AFPRG’s report, "Changing our Future - Agricultural and food policy for the next generation", notes that commercial cultivation of a range of GM crops is growing rapidly in many countries and points out that while 99% of GM crops cultivated globally have input traits such as herbicide and insect resistance, development of crops with many more GM traits is underway. The AFPRG’s report suggests that Australia would not remain globally competitive in the face of growing acceptance of GM crops internationally if the moratoriums are not lifted. Potential gains of $1.5 to $5.8 billion would be lost over the next 10 years if the Australian moratoriums continue, it is claimed.
The report recommends:
that governments give higher priority to communicating the benefits of agrifood biotechnology and publicise the robustness of the regulatory regime;
that agriculture and food businesses work with governments to facilitate the uptake of agrifood biotechnologies that will contribute to better health, a cleaner environment and more globally competitive industries; and
that state governments lift their moratoriums on the commercial use of GM crops and work with the government, industry and researchers to achieve nationally consistent traceability and tolerance protocols and to clarify legal liability issues surrounding the use of GM organisms in agriculture and food products.
Should the recommendations be adopted, the Australian agricultural industry and the public will be able to tap into the opportunities presented by GM technology and consumers will be better informed.
This legal update is an overview of existing eligible project activities and new project types proposed to be developed.
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