State regulation of GM crops

Once a biotech (GM) crop has been assessed by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and a license issued for commercial release, there may still be state legislated barriers to its cultivation and use.

Australia has been growing GM cotton since 1996 along with blue carnations. Today 96 per cent of cotton grown in Australia is genetically modified and its production has cut pesticide use by up to 85 per cent compared to conventional cotton varieties.

However in 2003, when the Gene Technology Regulator approved two GM canola traits for commercial release, governments in the canola-growing states imposed moratoria. The governments claimed they were concerned whether export markets would accept Australian GM canola, despite there being strong evidence that the same markets were purchasing Canadian GM canola.

Independent reviews of the Victorian and New South Wales moratoria in 2007 found that earlier concerns about market access, economic impact and segregation had largely been overcome since the bans were first put in place, and GM canola can now be produced commercially in those states.

Access to these new tools enables growers in NSW and Victoria to compete in international markets in the face of an ever changing and increasingly challenging operating environment.

Following a commercial trial of GM canola in 2009, the Western Australian Government announced in January 2010 that GM canola could also be grown on a commercial scale in WA from 2010 onwards.

Tasmania remains with a moratorium on the commercial release of GMOs until 2014. South Australia’s moratorium on GM food crops will continue until at least 2019 despite advice to the contrary from the Government’s own expert committee. This decision poses a complex scenario for the entire supply chain – from the Victorian canola growers who border SA, to the grain handlers who have previously transported grain through the State and loaded ships in SA.

To maintain product integrity, CropLife members are supporting farmers who use GM canola with training and accreditation courses. This includes advocating good on-farm management to ensure sustainability of the technology and following Crop Management Plans to ensure the segregation and co-existence of GM and non-GM canola.

CropLife advocates for those states that retain a moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops, to follow the scientific and economic evidence and grant their farmers the same opportunities as their neighbours, as well as their biggest economic competitors.