By Boyd Champness
SYDNEY – Australian canola has suddenly become a sought-after commodity as Europe continues to snub North American genetically modified oilseed crops.
According to a report in The Weekly Times last week, foreign grain traders have been buying up Australian stocks of golden canola oilseed to sell to European consumers, who are opposed to eating GM foods.
Canada, the worlds second largest canola producer, is among the buyers. Canada began growing GM varieties three to four years ago and because it failed, from the outset, to segregate GM crops from non-GM crops, it cannot guarantee a GM-free product.
It is estimated Canada has bought 100,000 tonnes of Australias recently harvested record 1.7 million-tonne crop to ship to Europe. Australian traders have also got orders to ship 100,000 tonnes to Europe this year. The European market has been valued at A$86.5 million (£34m).
Canadian officials have played down the move, but at the same time they remain frustrated at their failure to convince Europe to change its policy of GM foods.
The European Community has insisted on labelling for all modified foods, that genetically modified organisms not be released into the environment, and that there be a GM-free line of food production.
But the golden bonanza is destined to be short-lived, with the first broadacre crops of GM Roundup-resistant canola expected to be planted in Australia by 2001.
In addition, Australian farmers appear unwilling to segregate their crops, saying the slightly higher premiums would not offset the cost or effort.
“Whats the point of having a $10 premium if you can get a 30% increase in yield?” grain farmer and Australian Wheat Board member Warwick McClelland told The Weekly Times.
Australian Oilseeds Federation president Allan McCallum said Australian farmers could not afford to sacrifice yield improvements offered by the new breeds of GM canola.
“Sure, weve got the [GM-free] market at the moment but, in the long term, the further behind we get in GM technology, the harder it is to catch up,” he told the paper.