By Rebecca Thyer
Graingrowers are starting to take matters into their own hands to try to break the political deadlock that is preventing them from growing GM crop varieties.
Two new grower-led groups have been formed in recent months to give commercial farmers a stronger voice in the debate over the use or otherwise of new gene technologies in crop development - in particular GM crops.
Both groups - the national Producers" Forum and the Food Science Foundation - say their intention is to promote the use of science in food production and to make sure growers have timely access to agricultural biotechnologies.
The national Producers" Forum was formed in March to advance the GM debate in favour of grower access to technology that its convenor, Queensland farmer Jeff Bidstrup, says has economic, social, and environment importance - and which is already being used by international competitors.
The second group, the Food Science Foundation, was recently formed in South Australia by the immediate past president of the SA Farmers" Federation, John Lush. The foundation wants the state government to end its ban on GM crops and instead promote the scientific benefits for food production.
Both groups want growers to have the right to choose the technology that best suits their farming system.
Jeff Bidstrup, a mixed farmer from Warra in south-east Queensland, says the Producers" Forum wants more science and less "scaremongering and half-truths" in the GM debate. The forum"s membership comprises cereals and oilseed growers from WA, dried fruit, dairy, grain and beef producers from Victoria, and cotton, grain, cattle, sheep and oilseed growers from NSW and Queensland.
Mr Bidstrup says he formed the group because of frustration at the attitudes and actions of the major commodity companies and state governments. "Australia is missing out on possibly the most beneficial technical advance the world has ever seen," he says. "Australian farmers have stayed viable by being at the forefront of technology adoption on a very uneven global playing field, and we are now being forced to abstain from possibly the most important technology in our lifetime."
He says that even though Queensland has no moratorium on commercially growing GM crops, producers are not able to access GM seed because companies will not invest money in R&D for just one state.
For Mr Lush, it is also "to get credible, scientific information into the debate".
"I know that without past scientific achievements, I would not be competitive now," he says. "So we can"t afford to turn our backs on new technology."
His 2000-hectare family business produces wheat, barley, peas, beans, lupins and canola. "It"s about choice," he says.
More reports, page 15