The Guardian June 28, 2000


GM Food warning

The House of Representatives Committee on Gene Technology report on 
Genetically Modified (GM) food was released last Monday, and warned of 
potential disasters for Australia's agricultural industries as well as our 
native fauna.

In one of the more frightening assessments of the GM Food spectre, the 
Insurance Council of Australia stated that the risks involved in the 
venture could be likened to Asbestos, where huge compensation claims could 
be made 30 years in the future. Overall, they warned that the unforeseen 
risks are likely to be too high for the industry.

In stating his case, the Council's executive director wrote, "This is well 
founded given other man-made disasters in (the 20th) century involving 
products for human consumption.

"For example there have been many pharmaceutical disasters where parallels 
may be drawn to GM technology."

The Government has tried to allay fears of a GM disaster, by legislating 
for the establishment of a regulator to protect public health and safety. 
Such a department would have powers similar to the auditor-general or tax 
commissioner.

Yet evidence has shown that regulation has already failed after the secret 
dumping of GM canola at a public tip in Mt Gambier in March this year. At 
first the industry denied any regulations had been breached, and then it 
attempted to keep secret a critical report by the Interim Office of the 
Gene Technology Regulator.

Pandora's box

The Government admits in the report that GM crops are a veritable Pandora's 
box, by saying that gene technology holds "possible risks" including long-
term "intergenerational consequences that may not be able to be adequately 
addressed once the GMO is widely used."

The Greens have promised a major overhaul of the legislation when it 
reaches the Senate.

"The legislation fails to provide the safeguards that consumers and organic 
farmers are demanding  it is gutless," says Greens leader Senator Bob 
Brown.

The Greens have promised a Senate Inquiry into the legislation, and expect 
changes in areas such as:

* States and Local Governments being allowed to "opt out" of GM food 
production;

* the establishment of an 8km buffer zone to protect Australia's organic 
farmlands; 

* and the compulsory neighbourhood notification of where GM foods are 
grown.

"The environmental risks of Genetic Engineering are unknown but potentially 
huge. Australia needs a five year moratorium on any GE releases so these 
risks can be assessed", said Bob Brown.

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