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Moratorium on GM crops costs SA farmers millions, review finds

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The moratorium on genetically modified crops has likely cost SA’s agriculture industry up to $2.2 million each year – and there is little evidence against lifting the ban, an independent report commissioned by the Marshall Government argues.

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The Government this morning released the Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson’s independent review of South Australia’s genetically modified organisms (GMO) crop moratorium, which identifies a series of economic benefits from lifting the ban and few downsides.

It estimates that SA’s farmers have collectively foregone between $11 million and $33 million in income over the past 15 years, or between $733,333 and $2.2 million each year.

The moratorium on GMO crops is legislated until 2025, which means overturning it would require a vote of Parliament.

The report also estimates SA’s agriculture industry could earn $5 million in the years leading up to 2025 if the ban were lifted – or “much more” depending on future prices.

Anderson’s report also finds that:

Anderson is a well-known researcher on the economic aspects of GMO and has produced a number of academic papers adducing the benefits of genetically modified crops.

His review attracted 216 public submissions, most of which were near-identical generic statements in opposition to GMOs, copied from political campaigning website www.dogooder.co .

The majority of the remaining submissions favoured ending the ban, including from organisations representing the state’s farmers: Grain Producers SA, Livestock SA, SA Dairy Farmers, Primary Producers SA, Crop Science Society of SA and SA Independent Agricultural Consultants Group.

Some submissions from farmers on Kangaroo Island said  that their crops attracted a premium price in the Japanese market for non-GM food.

They argued the moratorium could be lifted on the mainland and maintained on the island without affecting the premium.

Commissioning the review was among the Liberal Party’s promises at the last state election.

Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said the report “comprehensively debunks many of the myths perpetrated by the former government and exposes the costs to South Australia’s farmers and economy of the GM moratorium”.

“The former Labor Government continually spruiked the significant premiums for South Australia’s non-GM canola, however the report debunks this view, finding there is no premium for SA grain when comparing data on prices of grain from neighbouring states,” Whetstone said.

“Investment in agricultural science has suffered under the moratorium, with the review finding the GM moratorium has discouraged both public and private investment in research and development in this state.”

Whetstone said the Government would take into account other potential benefits from lifting the ban, including attracting more research dollars to South Australia, as it considers the future of the moratorium.

Labor Primary Industries and Regional Development spokesperson Eddies Hughes told InDaily: “If this is the Liberal position, then they have to explain what they are going to do to assist our primary producers who get a premium due to being GM free.”

Labor’s Government Accountability spokesperson Tom Koutsantonis said a lot of farmers rely on a premium from South Australia’s GM moratorium, and would be worried by the Government’s approach.

Grain Producers SA welcomed the report today, arguing that the “opportunity cost” of maintaining the moratorium was only likely to grow, as new GM varieties from other crops are made available.

“As the report makes clear, there is no premium for grain from SA despite it being the only mainland state with a GM crop moratorium,” a spokesperson for the organisation said.

“The report also recognises there are additional benefits from GM crops such as reduced weed control costs and the potential for increased yields.

“GPSA has consistently argued the moratorium offers little in the way of trade and marketing benefits to the majority of agricultural producers in SA, and removes the option of using GM tools, which have been independently proven to be safe and effective.”

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