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GM: debate the science not the values

By Max Rheese - posted Monday, 4 June 2007

The recent claim that southern Australia is in the grip of a lobbying war over the impending expiry of the moratoria on genetically modified crops is a manifestation of the silliness that impedes progress on many science-based issues in society today.

If indeed there is a lobbying war over whether to allow the expiry of the moratorium on growing GM crops on February 29, 2008, imposed by the Victorian Government in 2004 - or to extend it to 2013 - then it is a war based on imposition of values, not science.

Moratoria on GM crops will expire in most states in 2008.


Anti GM groups have argued that the introduction of GM technology will have adverse effects on the environment without providing any evidence to substantiate their claims. Conversely, GM proponents have presented detailed, documented studies of very large reductions of pesticide use - up to 80 per cent in the Namoi valley in New South Wales where 90 per cent of the cotton grown is GM.

Further to this, anti GM groups have been presented with the results of the Brooks Barfoot ten-year study released earlier this year, into the socio-economic and environmental effects of GM crops grown overseas that show they have been wildly successful for individual farmers who have been able to choose whether they grow GM or conventional crops.

No such choice is available in Australia except for cotton and 90 per cent of farmers choose GM cotton.

The study also shows that the reduction in greenhouse gases emitted through minimum tillage by growing GM crops is equal to removing four million cars from the road. These are very substantial, proven environmental benefits from biotech crops.

The accumulated area of biotech crops planted globally over eleven years, 1996 to 2006, has reached 577 million hectares, grown by about 10.3 million farmers, 90 per cent of whom are in developing countries. This massive practical experience on millions of farms generating our food, feed, fibre and fuel is solid confirmation that biotech crops do not pose any substantiated risk beyond those posed by conventional crops, without harming the planet.

Clearly the evidence in many studies shows that biotech crops leave a smaller ecological footprint on the landscape than conventional crops.


Those opposed to GM crops grasp at any argument to deny our farmers the freedom to choose and in doing so deny the environment and the economy the advantages of technological innovation that our major trading partners overseas already enjoy.

These arguments, which science show to be baseless, along with the myths about premiums for non GM status are disingenuous and all about imposing their values on the rest of society.

The UN predicts the world population will rise to 9.3 billion people by 2050 - a 42 per cent increase on the present - and nobody is predicting that the world will get any bigger to accommodate an extra three billion people.

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About the Author

Max Rheese is the Executive Director of the Australian Environment Foundation.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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