The expert report commissioned by the Australian government says a venture capitalist "will not support any investment into agriculture-related GMO projects by Australian companies while there is such a level of community uncertainty".
To date the pattern has been that Australia's federal government and its science establishment has tried to impose this technology on the country in the interests of wealth creation.
CSIRO which provides Australia's biotech reseach and advie base is amongst the most industrially-aligned public science bodies in the world (and that's saying something!) with an openly avowed policy of seeking to get into bed with big business. http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=187&page=C
The regulator appointed to deal with GM approval issues, Dr Sue Meek, is a scientist bureaurat whose background is largely as someone seeking to stimulate the commercial development of biotechnology. She is even a member of AusBiotech whose mission is to facilitate biotechnology commercialisation in the domestic and international marketplace.
However, thanks to the resistance that has been mounted at State level, the attempt to rush in the technology has been effectively thwarted but note the ominous statement at the end of this article:
"Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane's spokeswoman said the GMO regulatory system would be reviewed next year".
So will the hold of the bad idea virus really be such that they will really try to fore australian agriculture down a road that no private investor is prepared to tread? All around the world more public investment is being sought to shore up this commercial dud.
1.Biotech investors scared
2.The kind of regulator Australia has - Sue Meek
1.Biotech investors scared
Herald Sun, 11jun04
COMMUNITY fears about "franken-food" and confusion over regulations have sparked such concern in the biotechnology field that investors have shunned the sector.
A government-commissioned report also shows stakeholders fear industry development could be choked if debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is uninformed.
The "Evaluation of the National Biotechnology Strategy and Biotechnology Australia", conducted last year and obtained under FoI [Freedom of Information] laws, examined a sector developing everything from retractable needles to weed-resistant crops.
GMOs, which have sparked community concerns about effects on health and the environment, were highlighted.
A research institute said Europe had "effectively committed suicide" after making policies based on misinformation and community fears.
It also reported a venture capitalist "will not support any investment into agriculture-related GMO projects by Australian companies while there is such a level of community uncertainty".
A state agriculture agency said ill-informed debate could impede advances even in non-GM fields.
Commonwealth arm Biotechnology Australia (BA) runs a program to boost awareness.
BA public awareness manager Craig Cormick said the science was "both technical and emotive".
"We do a lot of work trying to help the community understand the science point of view, but also make the scientists and developers understand the community's point of view," he said.
Stakeholders also sought a more "truly" national system, highlighting conflicting GMO regulations.
"Trials of the use of GM canola crops were approved by (the federal regulator), but an independent moratorium was placed on . . . genetically modified crops by states," it said.
"Although the marketing and release of GMOs is a states' issue, there were calls . . . for a national intervention because of inconsistencies or uncertainty in how states are managing issues."
Queensland State Development Minister Tony McGrady said his Government was actively working with federal regulations and policy reviews. Queensland was the only state which had not introduced a moratorium on approved GM crops, he said.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron's spokesman said fears about damage to exports and a lack of demand had prompted a suspension on commercial canola crops. There were no plans to change the current state-federal relationship, he said.
Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss's office said states held responsibility for land use and this limited Commonwealth intervention.
Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane's spokeswoman said the GMO regulatory system would be reviewed next year.
BA strategy and co-ordination manager Rod Shaw said BA was working on issues including a national ethics code.
2.The kind of regulator Australia has:
Dr Sue Meek - a GM WATCH profile
[for all the links http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=278&page=M]
In December 2001 Dr Sue Meek became Australia's inaugural Gene Technology Regulator. She was the first appointee under the Gene Technology Act 2000, which 'provides a comprehensive legal framework for the regulation of genetically modified organisms in Australia, in order to protect human health and safety and the environment.'
At the end of December 2003 the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) announced the approval for the license of Monsanto’s GM Roundup Ready canola (oilseed rape). The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) called for a parliamentary enquiry into this decision and a review of the employment of Sue Meek as Gene Technology Regulator. 'It is not acceptable for the OGTR to ignore submissions, ignore advisory committees and misrepresent the legislation,' they said. (OGTR decision not acceptable )
Upon appointment, Dr Meek said she was a firm believer in 'having regulatory systems in place to ensure there are safeguards for the community and the environment', adding, 'As the Regulator, I am neither a proponent, nor critic, of gene technologies, but it is my job to vigorously implement the new laws which govern the development, trial and release of GMOs in the best interest of all Australians.' (New Technology Regulator Takes Up Position)
But some questioned the extent to which Dr Meek could be seen as not 'a proponent' of gene technologies given her professional background. According to Dr Meek's CV, from 1984-88 she was Technical Director of her own company, Sue Meek and Associates, 'specialising in the commercialisation of biologically-based ventures'. She was also engaged at this time as Executive Officer to the South Australian Biotechnology Promotion Committee.
Although she subsequently moved into the public sector, all of her subsequent posts prior to becoming Gene Technology Regulator have also placed her in an industry-sympathetic role involving encouraging the development of the biotechnology industry and the commercialisation of its products. Dr Meek was for several years Executive Director of the Science and Technology Division, in the Department of Commerce and Trade. Prior to that she was Manager of the Emerging Industries Branch, of the Department of State Development, with responsibilities that included improving the State's capacity 'to identify, develop and adopt opportunities' from industries such as biotechnology. Dr Meek has also been Manager of the Biotechnology Branch, in the Technology and Industry Development Authority, and as such 'responsible for promoting the establishment and development of biotechnology-based industry'.
She is also a member of both the Australian Institute of Company Directors and AusBiotech. The latter describes itself as 'the national body of companies and individuals dedicated to the development and prosperity of the Australian biotechnology industry. AusBiotech provides a 'platform' that brings together all the relevant players involved in the Australian biosciences community. Its mission is to facilitate the commercialisation of Australian bioscience in the international marketplace.' It also states its aim as, 'To encourage and facilitate the commercialisation of Australian biotechnology in the domestic and international marketplace.' (What is Ausbiotech?)
Groups like the Network of Concerned Farmers have, understandably, asked whether a career path so consistently built around biotechnology commercialisation was appropriate for a key regulatory figure. They have also questioned the funding base of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator where a proposed funding change would allow the GM industry, instead of the government, to fund this supposedly independent regulatory body after 2005 under a cost recovery principle. (Why trust the regulatory process?)