Chapter 10 Are further measures needed
The Review Panel has considered whether the Victorian Government should complement the introduction of GM canola with additional policy approaches. This chapter explores two possible measures to assist the potential introduction of GM canola.
10.1 Communication and monitoring of ongoing impacts
As discussed, public perceptions of GM canola are varied. Public opinion plays an important role in policy decisions, and while there is evidence to suggest Australians' attitudes towards biotechnology may be softening, the Panel considers that the application of biotechnology in agriculture is poorly understood. Public opinion is shaped as much by the form and source of information as by its content, with trust in the source being critical (Schuurbiers et al. 2007). As McHughen (2007) stated in his recent review of public perceptions of agricultural biotechnology in Europe and North America:
… intelligent non-scientifically trained consumers cannot be expected to learn the intricacies of the technology to enable a personal choice to support or reject biotechnology products. The only reasonable and pragmatic alternative is to place trust in someone to provide honest advice. But who, working in the public interest, is best suited to provide informed and accessible, but objective, advice to … consumers? (p. 1105)
Biotechnology Australia, in close association with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, has undertaken to raise awareness of, and provide educative materials about, the science of biotechnology, including agricultural applications. The Panel notes the activities undertaken by these institutions are consistent with the ongoing information needs of the community.
The Panel considers several other national agencies are also well placed to provide accurate, objective and credible information on the extent and impact of GM canola, should it be introduced:
- The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator could be requested to provide the Victorian Government with an annual report outlining the performance of GM canola licence holders, including any new information that may be relevant to granting those licences.
- ABARE could be commissioned to provide the Victorian Government with ongoing analyses of the economic and trade impacts associated with the introduction of GM canola.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics could be requested to gather statistics relevant to the cultivation of GM canola in regions of Victoria.
- The Primary Industries Ministerial Council could be requested to coordinate the monitoring and managing of herbicide resistance nationally (and regionally) to ensure ongoing diversity in cropping systems.
The Panel considers the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator is well placed to monitor the impact of genetically modified canola on health and environmental safety, and ABARE and the Australian Bureau of Statistics could monitor the extent and impact of genetically modified canola on the Australian and Victorian economies.
10.2 Consistent regulatory arrangements
Harmonisation of requirements across jurisdictions will enable efficient grain industry development. In its Review of Export Grain Handling Regulation, Victoria's Essential Services Commission (2002) detailed the movement of grain across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. The analysis revealed that the state boundaries are incidental to grain trade: grain moves into Victoria from both South Australia and New South Wales and vice versa, depending on the source of least cost rail and shipping pathways to market. Maintaining GM crop regulation in any one of those states that is inconsistent with regulation in the others would result in an additional regulatory burden for a grains industry supply chain that has a national focus, with both farmers and consumers ultimately bearing the costs.
Allowing the moratoria on genetically modified canola in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales to expire at the same time would enable least cost pathways to market, facilitating efficiencies through the supply chain.