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GE crops will harm Australia warns US expert

by 5m Editor
29 December 2006, at 1:46am

AUSTRALIA faces economic and environmental losses if it follows the United States and grows commercial genetically engineered (GE) crops, a leading expert in agricultural technology has warned.

If Australia were to grow commercial GE canola it would enter the human food supply as vegetable oil and animal feed.

Dr Charles Benbrook, a former agricultural adviser to the Carter, Reagan and Clinton administrations, is touring Australia to warn government ministers and farmers about the problems with the first decade of GE crops in the US.

“Australian agriculture faces losing its international status as ‘clean and green’ if it ignores the food safety, environmental and economic costs associated with today’s GE crop technologies,” Dr Benbrook said.

“Lingering questions about the safety of GE crops and intense consumer pressure to assure the purity of the human food supply mean U.S. farmers have lost billions of dollars in export sales,” he said.

His research into the reality of GE crops for American farmers has shown the promises made by GE companies to Australian farmers are false, particularly their claim that GE crops will mean less herbicide use to control weeds.

“Across the southeastern U.S., where soybean and cotton farmers have relied almost exclusively on GE technology for several years, the system is on the brink of collapse, the volume of herbicides used is setting new records and farmers’ profit margins are shrinking,” Benbrook points out.

“Agricultural biotechnology rests on important, powerful advances in science but its practical benefits have been grossly oversold,” he said.

Based on his analysis of the U.S. experience, Benbrook predicts that widespread planting of today’s GE crops “will erode the sovereignty of Australian agriculture and allow multinational companies to gain a larger piece of the profit pie at the expense of farmers.”

Bob Phelps, Executive Director of the GeneEthics Network, which is hosting Dr Benbrook’s tour, said Australia was ill prepared for the side effects of GE crops.

“Despite state moratoria on commercial GE crops, thresholds of contamination which can ruin farm incomes overnight are now tolerated. GE and non-GE crops cannot be segregated and GE-free farmers are liable for the extra risks and costs of trying to avoid contamination.”

Dr Benbrook will tell Australian audiences throughout rural and regional Australia that:
  • U.S farmers have lost export markets because customers reject products contaminated by GE varieties;
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars in Australian commodity exports are at risk of being lost;
  • The U.S. government embraced GE crop technology in the early 1990s but failed to adopt the regulations and policies needed to accurately measure the costs, benefits and risks of GE crops and their products;
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture pesticide use data which Dr Benbrook analysed should worry Australian farmers. While GE herbicide-tolerant crops marginally reduced herbicide use in 1996 and 1997, new strains of herbicide resistant weeds have now forced GE farmers to spray more herbicides more often and they now use more herbicide than conventional farmers.
Dr Benbrook is touring Australia from November 27 to December 9, visiting Sydney, Canberra, Orange, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Horsham, Mt Gambier, Adelaide and Perth.

ThePoultrySite News Desk

5m Editor