Genetically Modified foods have again made headlines, this time with Scotland instituting a ban on GM crops. The issue is also gaining momentum in Australia, as both Tasmania and South Australia have issued moratoriums on planting GM seed.
Farm profitability was also a key issue, according to South Australian Minister for Agriculture, Leon Bignell. “Just like the South Australian Government, the Scottish Government doesn't want to gamble with its clean, green reputation and ruin a multi-billion dollar sector," Minister Bignell said in an interview with the ABC. "While some people around the world believe there are short-cuts to profits, they must realise by giving into requests to grow GM crops, we would be denying many more people in so many other sectors the right to seek a premium price."
Fruit and vegetable growers in South Australia have abided by a moratorium, and from an industry perspective there’s been ‘no comment’ according to Jason Size, a stonefruit grower from the Riverland of South Australia. “I have been a reasonable advocate of GMO’s, and that’s my personal belief. I do get harangued quite often from a negative perspective, but I think a lot of people don’t truly understand GMO cropping and the potential benefits,” he said. “I certainly support organic growing principles, but have not yet seen production data to say that organic methods will be able to feed the growing population.”
GM Cropping must be transparent, say farmers
Screening plants to weed out the gene for infertility, and speed up the natural selection process to encourage a higher yield over a longer period of time, was a practice Mr Size said he supported. “I’m a commercial farmer, and more issues have come about from pests, I think. I’m also very serious about looking after my soil health, and making sure there are plenty of microbes in the soil.”
Lack of education is affecting growers nationally, according to Nuffield Scholar, and organic farmer Nathan Free, who operates a family business in Victoria, a state without a moratorium. “There is certainly a place in the world for every type of crop, but I would also ask the question if GM cropping is good for us, why isn’t it labeled?” There was also ‘nothing pointing down the road’ to indicate that organic farming practices are not economical long term, according to him.
While farmers may appreciate the demand for organic food, Mr Free said that many are put off by the investment in time, education and money required to gain certification. “There are certain points on the scale, from organic to conventional growing,” he said. “Many growers want to be in the middle, using organic practices, but spraying crops when absolutely necessary. The problem is you can’t certify that middle point, and consumers don’t know they can trust it.”