NSW lifts 18-year ban on GM crops
The NSW government is lifting its ban on the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, allowing an 18-year moratorium to lapse on July 1 this year, which could potentially lead to increased agricultural competitiveness and productivity.
The NSW Government has decided not to renew the moratorium because there are sufficient safeguards through the national Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and because sufficient time has elapsed to show that the technology is safe.
Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall says that by lifting the ban, the government will be opening the door for the state’s primary industries sector to embrace new GM technologies in the field – potentially reaping billions of dollars in benefits across NSW.
“The potential agronomic and health benefits of future GM crops include everything from drought and disease resistance to more efficient uptake of soil nutrients, increased yield and better weed control,” he says. “GM technology could save farmers up to 35 percent of their overheads and boost production by almost 10 percent.”
Marshall says consumers will also benefit, as lifting the ban will allow companies to invest in GM tech that has the potential to remove allergens, improve taste and enhance nutrition.
Farmers give decision the nod
NSW Farmers supports the decision, provided farmers have a choice and that any genetically modified organism has been approved by an independent Australian regulator.
NSW Farmers President James Jackson says farmers who wish to cultivate GM crops should have the opportunity to make informed choices about what to sow, based on their individual businesses and specific conditions.
“For farmers, it’s all about the right to choose,” he says. “There are farmers who would incorporate GM crops into their farming systems and farmers who would choose not to.”
Jackson says the right to choose shouldn’t stop with the crops a farmer plants: “Truth in labelling is important to create trust and acceptance and to provide consumers the opportunity to make informed choices in regard to genetically modified foods,” he says.
The expert’s take
Charles Sturt University agriculture expert Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Jim Pratley says a ban on GM crops is no longer needed in NSW because the technology has been shown to be safe and beneficial for agriculture and the environment.
“GM cotton and canola have been grown in NSW for decades,” Pratley says. “That said, the growing of GM crops will require best practice agronomy, safe use of chemicals and good neighbour relationships. GM does not obviate the need for good management.”
GM technology is now about 40 years old. Farmers have been growing GM crops for more than a quarter of a century, and consumers have been eating GM foodstuffs over that time.
“There have been no issues, and so GM has passed the test of time and the community can have confidence that GM is safe,” Pratley says.
“In addition, there have been substantial savings in chemical use, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a range of environmental benefits.”
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory do not have a moratorium on GM crops, and the moratorium in South Australia now only applies to Kangaroo Island.