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Dependent on Monsanto for our food?

By Susan Hawthorne - posted Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The dairy industry is Australia’s most lucrative agricultural export sector. The industry has a value of $3.3 billion of which $2.7 billion is achieved from export. This is all GM-free produce and Australia’s reputation as a GM-free country has contributed to the value of these exports. Japan is one of Australia’s important export markets and 60 per cent of Japanese consumers do not want to buy GM foods. Ending the moratorium on GM crops could have a catastrophic effect on primary producers’ exports to Japan.

The United Dairy Farmers of Victoria (UDV) have previously supported Victoria’s GM-free status, but with the moratorium on GM crops set to run out on February 29, 2008, the pressure is on for organisations to capitulate to corporate pressure.

Dairy farmers are affected by the potential introduction of GM crops into Victoria because there is no method of containing the spread of GM crops and therefore contaminating previously GM-free areas. Further, imported stockfeed which contains GM corn, soy or canola meal will mean that all milk produced by these dairy cows will be GM contaminated. Which mothers and fathers want their children drinking GM contaminated milk?


The big push for GM crops in Australia comes from companies such as Monsanto and Bayer. Monsanto is known for prosecuting Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser whose farm was contaminated by Monsanto seed, and Monsanto then turned around and prosecuted Schmeiser for illegally growing patented plants. This case is an indicator of the kind of tactics that are used by unscrupulous agribusiness seed companies.

Australia has always prided itself on being one of the few self-sufficient food producers in the world. With the door potentially being opened to large agribusiness companies such as Monsanto, Australia will become dependent on these companies. How is that? When patented crops are grown, then distribution is also channelled to these and associated companies.

Patents are a means of privatising what has previously been public resources. Australia’s food security is under threat from ending the moratorium on GM crops. In the long term it will make Australia food-dependent on American companies such as Monsanto.

The crucial issue is that once the ban is lifted, there is no going back. When GM crops are allowed, they are here forever. It is irreversible. And yet, Victorian Treasurer, John Brumby is proposing to grow GM crops on his own farm. Admirable that he can’t be accused of being a NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard), but very shorted sighted, economically speaking. Victoria clean green? For how much longer?

Will those consumers who don’t want to drink GM contaminated milk, have to either give up milk? Or perhaps Australia could import milk from New Zealand, thereby expanding their economy.

Although the promoters of GM foods say that it is all about choice, what they are really doing is promoting the idea of compulsory consumption of GM foods, since its impact on the environment is in only one direction. And not only crops and farmers are affected, but gardeners too.


The spread of GM weeds is a problem not likely to be addressed by the “Expert Panel” with its very narrow scope of looking only at marketing and trade issues. Weeds, however, do have an economic cost. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that weed resistance associated with GM crops means that weed control is more difficult and more toxic herbicides are required to keep those same weeds under control, therefore increasing the costs and the health impacts on the community.

The introduction of GM crops will have very significant economic impacts. There will be no organic farming. At a time when this is a growing industry, it is economic madness to shut it off forever.

The companies pushing this are themselves not ready, since there are no mechanisms in place for keeping GM canola separate from GM-free canola. GM canola will enter Australia’s food supply, both as a contaminant in the dairy industry and through the production of cooking oils and oils used in processed foods. There is no adequate labelling, so consumers do not have the much-flaunted choice that politicians and promoters of GM are so keen to highlight.

In the middle of a drought, the promoters of GM crops will pump up the idea that there will be marvellous drought-resistant crops. But this is overstated. Drought resistant varieties of most regular crops already exist without needing to be GM affected, or subject to patents, or requiring payment of use fees to companies like Monsanto. It’s the economics of GM crops that really does not work;

  • increased costs for farmers for fees to multinational companies, and increased input costs, and uncertain insurance claims;
  • potential irrevocable loss of GM-free status and therefore of international markets such as Japan;
  • loss of independence of national food security with increasing acreages being licenced to, owned and farmed on behalf of large foreign-owned agribusiness companies;
  • significant losses in the dairy export industry, and the potential for other countries such as New Zealand to benefit from Australia’s capitulation to GM sponsor companies;
  • potential harm to the environment from GM crops and unknown consequences on human and animal health;
  • Monsanto and other companies will promise research offices and investment, but who will benefit from this? All the intellectual property will leave Australia; and
  • losses in the lucrative dairy export industry with customer bases that are increasingly anti-GM foods.

There is no consumer resistance to keeping Australia GM free. Why endanger our environment, our economy, our trade record and our health with this unknown risk that is irreversible? Victoria, clean green? We have until February 29, 2008 to keep this tag.

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About the Author

Dr Susan Hawthorne is a Research Associate at Victoria University, Melbourne, author of Wild Politics (Spinifex Press 2002) co-editor of September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives (2002) and numerous articles on globalisation, AUSFTA, GATS, war and patriotism.

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