By Boyd Champness

FOREIGN companies are using Australia as a breeding-ground to grow genetically modified seeds for commercial sale overseas, according to The Age newspaper.

Following the accusation, the Federal Government confirmed that Australian authorities had no control over what happens to GM seed once it leaves the country.

The government conceded it was possible that GM seed planted in Australia was being used for commercial purposes overseas.

There are also growing concerns that an illegal black market in GM canola seed is developing within Australia, which could potentially destroy Australias “green and clean” image.

It had been widely understood that GM crops were being grown in Australia for research purposes only.

But documents obtained by The Age from the Government-appointed Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee – the body set up to oversee GM trial plots in Australia – showed that up to half of the GM canola seed grown in Australia was for export.

The Federal Governments Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator said last week that, while Australia currently did not allow the sale of GM seed, there were no laws preventing overseas companies from growing GM seed on Australian soil for export.

“It is for the countries in receipt of these products to determine whether they will import the produce and to require appropriate field trials of the product in their countries if they wish,” it said in a statement.

According to the GMAC documents obtained by The Age, most of the exported GM crops are grown in spring and summer so they can be ready for release in the northern summer, particularly in Canada and the United States.

GM canola trials have been spread across six Australian states on more that 200 sites over the past two or three years.

However, to date there are only two GM plants that have been released for commercial use in Australia – Monsantos Ingard cotton crop and a carnation variety.

But perhaps of more concern are allegations of an illegal black market in GM canola seed emerging within Australia.

The Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator is understood to be investigating the possibility of an emerging black market.

This follows claims by prominent agribusinessman Mr Doug Shears that a travelling salesman had offered him what he believed was GM canola seed late last year.

Mr Shears said the travelling salesman called at his Cowl Station at Hillston, south-west New South Wales, praising the yield benefits of an exclusive line of canola seed he had access to.

“We cant say whether it was GM seed or not, but it gave us all the feeling that it was GM seed,” he told the Stock and Land.

Earlier this month, The Age newspaper revealed that bags of plants from a GM canola trial plot near the South Australian town of Mount Gambia had been dumped at an open commercial tip by Aventis – contravening safety protocols that stipulate such material should be buried under a metre of dirt.

The company maintains that it did not breach the industry guidelines, but the Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator is understood to be investigating.