30 May 2000
Australia to benefit from GM fiasco?

By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAN farmers could benefit from the fiasco which has seen hundreds of British growers unwittingly planting genetically contaminated crops.

Australian trade officials – who fear that Europe may use GM crops as a trade barrier – believe the mistake has thrown new light on the entire GM debate.

At the centre of Australias concerns is the United Nations-sponsored Biosafety Protocol, which requires genetically modified foods to be labelled.

The protocol also allows countries to use the “precautionary principal” to block the import of GM food even where there is no scientific basis for concerns.

The Australian National Farmers Federation and many MPs believe this treaty could undermine world trade rules designed to boost free trade.

They claim it would provide protectionist countries such as Japan, Korea and the European Union members with a vehicle to prohibit imports.

Australias Howard Government has delayed a decision about signing the international treaty because of these fears.

But Dr Klaus Schumacher, head of economics for multi-national grain trader Toepfer International, believes the British GM fiasco has clouded the issue.

It would be difficult for Europe to ban GM grain imports from other countries because thousands of hectares of GM crops have now been grown in Britain.

Dr Schumacher told The Weekly Times that any attempt to ban GM grain imports under the “precautionary principal” would have a weak argument.

The European Union already imports about 12-14 million tonnes of soya beans a year, half of it from the USA where the crop is widely grown.

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