Government must keep GMO open for discussion

GENETICALLY modified organisms could be a future saviour for Tasmania’s agriculture market.

Emotional reactions regarding genetically modified crops are sure to rise when a five-year GMO moratorium is brought up for renewal in the coming months.

Misunderstanding of GMO has been cemented through social media as widely publicised bans on controversial Monsanto operations in European countries spark heated online debate.

Former deputy premier Bryan Green was met with applause in January this year when he floated an indefinite moratorium on GMO ahead of the state election.

Support to remove the rolling system was shown by a range of industries that rely on Tasmania’s `GM-free’ tag, including the state’s valued beekeeping association.

It is fair for industries to lobby against genetic modification if it harms their business or marketing ability, but could eventually see Tasmania left behind in competition.

Despite the support, the former government did not get the opportunity to follow through with its legislation.

It’s just as well.

While allowing GMO food crops into Tasmania would have a serious impact on our carefully nurtured clean-green brand, the argument to have regular reconsideration of the issue is convincing when it comes to the state’s dairy or poppy industries.

Primary Industries Minister and poppy grower Jeremy Rockliff has been vocal with his intention to renew the five-year moratorium before November.

The move has been hailed by industry group Poppy Growers Tasmania, which harbours growing concerns regarding interstate and international competition.

More than 800 farmers and 22,000 hectares of Tasmanian soil were dedicated to producing the alkaloid-containing plant during the 2013-14 season.

Farm gate value of poppies is estimated at more than $70million – a massive economic driver for the state.

There was a significant drop in demand for Tasmania’s pharmaceutical poppy product when the US implemented its National Drug Control Strategy.

The strategy introduced restrictions to pain medications in the US and added to concerns felt within Tasmania’s industry.

The grower’s association advocated potential benefits of GM technology at its annual general meeting this year and likened technology to a fast-tracked selective breeding process.

Increasing yield for the poppies would only act as a bonus for the industry, according to the association, which desires to see a herbicide resistant strain developed.

Producer Tasmanian Alkaloids has expressed desire to conduct GMO trials and is also pushing the development of interstate crops – with it is TPI Enterprises.

Areas of Australia, such as Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, have already allowed cultivation of genetically modified canola.

That allowed the states to gain strong advantages in terms of production and pest control, and similar technology has been used to bolster parts of the nation’s cotton industry.

A five-year moratorium on GMO in Tasmania will not alter any existing bans on state crops, but it will ensure regular discussion is held about the topic.

GMO crops could even help Tasmanian agriculture to remain commercially viable in years to come.

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