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Farmers cast doubt on GE Pharm crops


Farmers cast doubt on GE Pharm crops

Efforts by Federated Farmers in Australia and New Zealand to promote GE crops are failing to gain traction with farmers who are expressing serious doubts about the supposed benefits of commercialising GE crops.

Mr Bob Willick a Canadian cropping farmer was impressed by the returns that he was promised by the GE canola he grew for four years. Over that time he experienced a range of problems including herbicide resistance, pesticide increase, yield drops, high seed prices and inability to sell the product, which prompted him to change his methods to Organic farming.

" Farmers are now discovering what North American farmers have been through," says Claire Bleakley from GE-Free NZ ( in food and environment). " If the advantages of growing GE were obvious and environmental damage had not occurred he would not have changed."

Research in Australia confirms that farmers have significant doubts about the push to commercialise GE canola now underway. A recent survey ( see below) undertaken for the Network of Concerned Farmers reveals:

· 71% of farmers have concerns about the commercial release of GM canola;

· 67% of farmers have significant concerns about the ability to market GM canola, ( whereas exports are currently strong because of its guaranteed GE-free status)

· 80% of farmers have significant concerns about the ability for GM and non-GM canola to co-exist ( as Canola farmers contaminated with GM in Canada have already discovered)

Hugh Ritchie, Chairman of the Grains Council and Federated Farmers say they recognise that there is no advantage to New Zealand in growing GE Canola or Soy but considers there may be benefits from growing pharmaceutical crops. GE Free (NZ) is concerned that already a New Zealand farmer from Rangiora has said he wants to use property for experimental "pharm crops".

In the USA millions of dollars worth of food was destroyed due to contamination by "pharmaceutical seed" in 2002 . The second incident saw USA courts fine ProdiGene Inc. $250,000, plus around $2.8 million to buy and destroy contaminated soybeans, after crops were tainted with experimental 'pharm' corn. Allison Snow, a biologist at Ohio State University, studying the speed crop genes contaminate wild plants, said zero tolerance is impossible no matter what regulations are put in place.

"The Royal Commission advised that pharmaceuticals should not be produced in genetically engineered animals and plants that are also used for human food," adds Ms Bleakley. " A scientist from Davis has stated GE pharm contamination of 1:10,000 was still one seed too many and that GE pharm plants should only be grown in contained buildings or deserts."

The intentional release of GE organisms presents another scale of risk that not even commercial insurers are willing to cover. Claire Bleakley says "The use of our land for dangerous GE experiments places New Zealand agricultural economy in jeopardy".

"Pharming could lead to the demise of conventional farming on both sides of the Tasman. Farmers are right to question if organisations like Federated Framers are genuinely representing their interests in promoting GE applications in the open environment when it is clear they will undermine existing production and exports."

Ends

**bio- pharming - the use of plants of animals to produce vaccines and medicines through the introduction of a foreign toxin protein by genetic engineering.

***biotechnology - the use of biological natural and synthetic methods to produce products, of which GE is one.

STRICTER RULES FOR MODIFIED CROPS New York Times, March 7, 2003 (USA)

US FARMERS - $110 MILLION STARLINK SETTLEMENT Reuters Securities News, February 07, 2003 (USA)

FDA INVESTIGATES IMPROPER DISPOSAL OF GE PIGS FDA Talk Paper, February 5, 2003 (USA)

SUCCESSES OF MODERN AND TRADITIONAL NON-GE CROP VARIETIES from GENET GE free Newsletter 02/12

SOYBEANS MIXED WITH PHARMACEUTICAL CORN Justin Gillis, Washington Post: Nov. 13, 2002

TIGHTER CONTROLS URGED FOR DRUG PLANTS By Steve Mitchell, UPI Medical Correspondent 12/17/2002

ALARMS SOUND OVER "BIOPHARMING"; TAINTED CROPS CAST DOUBT ON GENE ALTERING BY MIKE TONER The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, November 17, 2002

PRODIGENE TO SPEND MILLIONS ON BIO-CORN TAINTING USA: December 9, 2002 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ----

New survey shows 70% of Vic farmers concerned about GM canola.

Melbourne, 9th April 2003: The first comprehensive survey of Victorian farmer attitudes has shown that farmers are overwhelmingly concerned about the proposed introduction of GM canola. "The survey, commissioned by Doug Shears from ICM Agribusiness and in consultation with the Network of Concerned Farmers, provides overwhelming justification for a statewide moratorium on the release of GM canola", said Geoff Carracher, canola grower from West Wimmera, VFF member and spokesperson for the Network of Concerned Farmers.

Key findings of the survey are:

· 71% of farmers surveyed have concerns regarding the commercial release of GM canola; · 67% of farmers have significant concerns about the ability to market GM canola; · 80% of farmers have significant concerns about the ability for GM and non-GM canola to co-exist.

"If the Victorian Government wants evidence to support a moratorium on the release of GM canola, here it is", said Carracher. Scott Kinnear, VFF member and spokesperson for the Biological Farmers of Australia, said, "The Victorian Farmers Federation have been unwilling to ask farmers what they think about GM canola so it has been up to the rest of the farming community to do their work for them."

"It's of little surprise that only a slight majority of Victorian farmers consider the VFF to be a trustworthy source of information on GM crops."

The survey produced by the Paterson Group involved phone interviews with a random and representative sample of 200 grain growers in Victoria. The qualitative survey found that the overwhelming majority of farmers have a wide range of concerns: · Only 52% of farmers surveyed consider that they have enough information to make a sound decision about the introduction of GM canola; · 80% of farmers have significant concerns about on-farm contamination issues; · 72% of farmers have significant concerns about the liability issues due to contamination; · 71% of farmers have significant concerns about patent rights depriving farmers of the right to save seeds; · Only 20% of farmers are confident that existing quality assurance systems are sufficient to ensure non-GM and GM canola can coexist.

"This is not an anti GM response", Kinnear added, "even though most farmers don't trust the biotech companies."

"A large majority of farmers supports GM research. Their opposition to GM canola is specific - they don't want GM canola released commercially based on the current technology, current markets and the inability of current quality assurance systems to stop GE contamination of conventional crops."

"The message from Victoria's farmers is clear. We understand the implications of GM canola and we don't want it. Steve Bracks needs to join all of the other canola growing states, rein in his Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron, and demand a moratorium on the release of GM canola in Victoria," Mr Kinnear concluded.

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