EXCERPT: But he was not surprised about being kept in the dark because the existing voluntary system did not require the agriculture minister to be told. [!]
WA ponders GM crop ban
By Ruth Callaghan
The Western Australian, June 4 2001
THE State Government may classify genetically modified crops in the same way as dangerous and banned plants to keep them out. This would stop farmers from growing GM plants in WA, stop the sale of GM seed and force landholders with GM plants on their properties to rip them out.
Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said he was considering the drastic measure as a way of stopping the release of GM crops in WA. This could happen as soon as next year.
He said existing State legislation gave the Government powers to keep plants out of WA if their release could be harmful or if they were not wanted. "If we were particularly unhappy with a particular strain of canola being released it could be declared a prescribed plant," he said. "Once something is declared it is not only an offence to have it on your property, it is an offence not to remove it from your property."
The move could keep GM crops from WA even if the Federal office of the Gene Regulator allows their release in other States.
The regulator acts as a voluntary body but gets statutory powers this month when the Gene Technology Act takes effect.
Mr Chance said he thought the Federal laws appeared to cover about 80 per cent of the issues he wanted addressed but he would study the laws. He would analyse the Commonwealth regulations to see how much of WA's policy objectives were met. He did not know where most GM trials in WA had taken place. He had been told of only a few breaches of the Federal guidelines. But he was not surprised about being kept in the dark because the existing voluntary system did not require the agriculture minister to be told.
Under the new laws, he would demand the location of all trials so that local communities could be aware they were taking place.
Last week, The West Australian revealed that trials of GM lupins at Mingenew and Quairading were being audited by the Federal regulator over breaches of national guidelines. Neither the local councils nor the Minister had been told of the trials, the breaches or the investigation.
Mr Chance said companies, landholders or organisations doing trials might be banned from further experiments in WA. "People who have committed breaches have to think long and hard to convince me that they ought to be allowed to conduct trials in WA," he said.
Mr Chance said the agricultural community had to be prepared for the inevitable push to grow commercial GM crops in WA.
The safety of existing crops had to be assured even though biotechnology was important for Australian agriculture.
The first applications for commercial GM crops were likely to arrive next year, he said.