Ge Free Tasmania

 Most ordinary Tasmanians are hazy about the exact nature of genetically modified crops, however, there is a strong undercurrent of suspicion – echoed by people all over the world – that this so called great leap forward might be a leap into the dark.
The GE controversy has split the farming community.
While there is a broad range of opinion, the division is clearest between the producers of high-quality foods such as cheese, walnuts and salmon and those aiming for mass production global markets. Tasmania hasn’t the broad  acerage for this type of cropping – so are we simply being used as guinea pig’s to grow the seeds for other mass production areas in the northern hemisphere.
Currently there is a moratorium on experimental crops. The moratorium  is supported by firms such as Lactos and industry groups like the Salmon Growers’ Association and Websters Ltd., who see Tasmania’s clean image as threatened by the spread of GE, and opposed by those who see a quick, short term gain.
Another argument the supporters of GE is that if we don’t get involved, we’ll be left behind with the new technology; but since all GE trials so far have been annuals, the gap would only be a year.
GE opponents say it is idle to believe that an economy the size of Tasmania’s could ever compete with Russia, China and the U.S.A.
Our State’s advantage is in quality and not in the single-minded pursuit of ever-bigger quantities at ever-lower prices.
And until the USA drops its export enhancement programme (a roundabout way of describing huge cash subsidies to farmers) and Europe does the same, this competition is merely a race for the bottom.
Claims about the potential of the GE seed industry have yet to be substantiated, especially when consumers around the world are rejecting GE and actively seeking GE-free products.
The Japanese, for example, have said they will not buy GE dairy produce and will go elsewhere; customers have forced British supermarket chains to declare GE-free buying policies; US consumers are rejecting corn chips because a GE strain intended only for animal feed contaminated the human corn crop.
GE’s supporters say that people ought to see reason, and in the end they are arguing for a world that runs in the way they think it ought to, not as it actually is.
Whatever the benefits of GE, and even the supporters admit that there are risks too, consumers everywhere have signalled very clearly that they don’t want it. Firms like Lactos, which have been exporting for many years, know what their customers want, and it isn’t GE.
The Federal government is all in favour of GE because it sees it as high-tech and therefore obviously a good thing.
It seems not to see that international markets don’t give a hoot about Australian domestic policies and are ready to pay a premium for top quality, non-GE products; for a government that prides itself on letting the market take care of as many things as possible, this is a huge blind spot.
And here’s just one example: European canola oil processors are happy to pay a 3.5 per cent premium for Australian canola in preference to GE-tainted Canadian canola.
There’s more. Japanese buyers say they will not buy GE wheat – or wheat from producers who can’t guarantee that their crop isn’t untainted. In the present state of the GE art, no-one is able to give such a guarantee and it looks like no-one ever will be.
Export bonanza
If Tasmania stays GE-free, experts believe that it could export $A1 billion of GE-free food to Europe and Japan. Tasmania, with its hard-won reputation for quality and cleanliness, will have a larger share of that than its size might seem to justify.
There is little point in tyring to keep up with the big boys. We produce things that appeal to the top end of the food market; we feed those who can afford to buy what we offer. There’s nothing wrong in aiming for the first class trade, especially when we simply aren’t big enough to supply economy class.
Supporters of GE say we risk losing a $10 million seed export industry, stiffer competition from nations using GE and possible World Trade Organisation sanctions.
Predictably, a good deal of this support comes from interests which derive from marketing the products of multinational agribusiness giants like Monsanto or from producing crops which form the feed stock for a variety of products: it is no surprise that the poppy growers favour GE  - for perfectly sound economic reasons.
Not only that, recent surveys have shown that 80 per cent of Tasmanians favour a moratorium at least, and a smaller but still very significant majority want a permanent ban.
And there are signs that the drive for GE is faltering – US plantings of GE crops dropped last year by as much as 20 percent.
Let’s just wait and see – and let’s not surrender advantages gained over many years of hard work, hard cash and hard lessons in world markets.