Genetically modified canola: blessing or slippery slide? by Dave Eksteen, AGWEST, Esperance

Genetically modified canolas are set to be introduced into the Australian market within two years. Australian growers face an interesting dilemma as they reap a bonanza in Europe from their conventionally bred varieties.

According to a report in The Sunday Times (21 March), Marks & Spencer of London has ordered a total ban on so-called 'Frankenstein foods' in its stores.

The giant retailer will axe or change the recipes on 1,000 products to remove genetically modified (GM) ingredients including soya, maize and all their derivatives. The ban will be implemented across 268 outlets over the next three months, making Marks & Spencer the first company to offer totally GM-free foods.

In May British High Street chain Iceland became the first to order a GM ban that covers its own-label brands. Asda last week made clear that it was also removing GM ingredients, where possible. Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway have also promised to reduce reliance on GM ingredients.

Scientists claim that GM product will have no effect on the consumers while being necessary to ensure that production remains viable and competitive.

Growers need to decide now if they want to go the pathway of the GMs or not. With WA being fairly isolated it will be easy to stay GM-free and thus obtain a premium GM-free market. (Or does the market not distinguish between the products?)

Once GM canola is introduced there will be no way to guarantee that the product is GM-free. Cross-pollination and mixing when delivered will prevent the product staying GM-free.

Growers have only two years before GM canola such as Roundup Ready and Liberty Link are to be introduced. Do growers want to follow this path? There are a lot of pros and cons to be weighed up. Is it just a poor understanding of the benefits of GM products? Or will consumer resistance to GM products snowball?

I hope WA makes the best choice to ensure that the future of canola in WA is secured.

* Reprinted with permission from the Good Oil newsletter, March-April 1999.

Of note...

The NSW Grains Board announced earlier this year that it had sold the largest single cargo of canola to leave Australia, 57,500 tonnes, to oilseed crushing plants in Europe. "Europe has moved to become a major buyer this year because Australia is the only country to guarantee non-genetically modified canola," said Managing Director Graham Lawrence. The figures reflect in all regions a rise in demand that is translating into a record crop, around 1.6 million tonnes nationally.