Australian GM report sparks canola controversy

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Genetically modified organism, Organic food, Gm

Australia can adopt commercialised genetically modified (GM) canola
production without compromising its organic agriculture, say new
findings from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and
Resource Economics (ABARE).

In its latest report, the government agency revealed it expected that growing GM canola would have "very little"​ impact on existing organic supplies of the product, if at all. The findings are likely to add weight to calls from some within the food industry saying that certain domestic GM crops should be allowed so that there is greater sustainability in the country's raw ingredient supply. The issue has become particularly important in recent years, as wide-scale drought has hit the food industry's raw material supply. Under Australia's organic certification standards, produce cannot under any circumstances contain traces of GM material. As such, there are fears that allowing GM canola growth will threaten organic goods certification. However, the report stresses that there has been little organic canola production within the country in recent years. This, it claims, is proof that there should be permissible alternatives to meet feed and formulation demand. "This suggests that an introduction of GM canola would have minimal impact on the organic livestock industry,"​ states the report. However, the findings have already come under criticism from representatives of the country's organic food industry. Andre Leu, a spokesman for the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), refuses claims that GM Canola production will not be detrimental to the country's organic industry. "There are no markets around the world that will allow products to be called organic if they have a level of contamination from GM products,​ he said in an interview the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). "So organic growers would lose their premium on the market,"​ Leu's Leu's claims are likely to hold more sway amongst both authorities and consumers, who remain unsure over GM use. Australia has imposed bans on commercial production of genetically modified (GM) canola until 2008, although it has been approved as safe for human consumption by the country's food authorities, and food makers are allowed to use it if imported as an ingredient. Furthermore, under the country's regulations on GM foods, companies are only required to label finished products that can be shown to contain altered DNA when tested. Canola oil, used in food processing and for cooking, is highly refined and is unlikely to contain any protein (and therefore evidence of altered DNA). Environmental groups remain gravely concerned over any form of GM, claiming that there is insufficient information on the long terms effects of consuming the produce.

Related topics: Markets, Oceania, Supply chain

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