The Guardian March 14, 2001


GE Multinationals use Australia as a guinea pig

by Andrew Jackson

A secret deal between local beekeepers and GE (genetically engineered) food 
multinationals Monsanto and Aventis has been described as "outrageous" by 
the Organic Federation of Australia and the Federal Health Minister Michael 
Wooldridge accused of being negligent and indifferent to the plight of 
Tasmanian farmers.

"This is outrageous given (the possible) contamination of like crops and 
related species", said Scott Kinnear, the Chair of the Organic Federation.

"The use of commercial bees massively increases the risk of cross-
pollination and we know they move pollen up to 10km", he said. "In 
addition, what about the honey produced? Any honey produced from nectar 
coming off GE canola plantings is likely to be illegal, and should be 
illegal for sale in Australia".

He said that although the Australia New Zealand Food Authority has approved 
the use of GE canola oil in Australia, they had not given approval for 
honey that may be contaminated by bees.

"The Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge should immediately order an 
investigation to ascertain the extent of honey produced and where it may 
have been sold. This honey should be withdrawn immediately from sale," said 
Mr Kinnear.

Senator Bob Brown said this revelation, and information that unplanned GE 
canola regrowth has occurred around 11 of Tasmania's 57 secret crop sites, 
made a farce of the Regulator's assurance that a 100 metre buffer zone was 
sufficient to quarantine the GE crops.

Senator Brown called on the Minister of Health Michael Wooldridge to go to 
Tasmania to set up an independent inquiry and look at the feasibility of 
criminal charges. "The Minister and his IOTR (Interim Office of the Gene 
Technology Regulator) have fuelled the fears of farmers and consumers that 
GE experimentation by the multinationals in Tasmania is out of control", 
Senator Brown said.

"Monsanto and Aventis are using Australia as a guinea pig and both state 
and federal authorities have shown sheer negligence.

"The potential damage to Tasmania's burgeoning organic farm produce sector 
is huge and glib assurances of negligible risk from the regulator are 
unacceptable," Senator Brown said. He accused them of failing, local 
government and farmers by ensuring that the GE crops were one off and not 
regenerated or spread.

"The least this disinterested Minster should do is pay for monitoring of 
all crops within 10 kilometres of the experimental GE crops for at least 3 
years.

"But it seems that both the Federal Government and the corporations are 
leaving this burden to local farmers", said Senator Brown.

The one small victory Tasmania's farmers had this week is that the Minister 
has agreed to release a list telling where the secret GE crops were 
planted.

The Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment has 
defended the State Government's record in trying to keep Tasmania GE free.

"Through direct action, we have put a moratorium on open field trials since 
July 2000, forced changes to the Federal Government's legislation, which 
will resolve some of the outstanding issues", said Minster David Llewellyn.

He also accused the Greens of trying to hijack the issue, saying, "The 
Greens think they are the only ones who care about the environment. They 
should join with the government in attacking the Federal Government."

Meanwhile the Organic Federation has said that a three-year moratorium is 
insufficient. "Australia should come to its senses in this election year 
and stop GE for at least five to ten years to allow some regulatory sanity 
to prevail".

They have issued a dire warning, saying that the current revelations were 
only the "tip of the iceberg", and that the contamination was probably 
going on in most states of Australia.

Back to index page