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GM-free snub a "kick in the guts" for wine industry


Australia’s largest organic wine region and the state’s biggest council have described a state government decision to reject all 11 bids by SA councils to ban genetically modified crops from their districts as a “huge kick in the guts”.

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Adelaide Hills, Alexandrina, Barossa, Berri Barmera Council, Onkaparinga, Playford, Yankalilla, Mount Barker, Tea Tree Gully, Gawler and City of Victor Harbor councils – all in or near major wine regions – applied to have local GM moratoriums extended.

However, Primary Industries Minister David Basham announced yesterday afternoon that there was not enough evidence to justify any council area remaining GM-free outside of Kangaroo Island, which had its moratorium preserved under a separate deal last year.

McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association, which sits entirely in the state’s most populous council Onkaparinga, led the push to remain GM-free.

Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson the decision would add unnecessary red tape and additional costs to the wine industry, hindering its ability to create jobs and growth.

“This decision simply doesn’t add up,” she said.

“The minister gave us one opportunity to engage with our industry representatives about this matter and we did so in good faith.

“We listened to our growers and they told us about the measurable impact this decision would have, but this has fallen on deaf ears and the implications are deeply concerning.

“The minister has now put at risk more than $20 million annually in crop value. On the back of COVID-19 and further export challenges currently being faced by our wine industry, this is a huge kick in the guts,” she said.

In its submission to the council, MGWTA said McLaren Vale risked losing up to $20.1 million annually in crop value and an additional $5.1 million each year in export value should GM crops be grown in the area.

McLaren Vale is Australia’s fifth-largest wine region by value and the largest when it comes to the area of certified organic or biodynamic vineyards.

About 37 per cent of the region’s 7324ha of vines are certified, which compares to a national average of about 5 per cent.

MGTWA general manager Jennifer Lynch said the association was disappointed with Basham’s decision, which missed an opportunity to strike a balance between the needs of grape and grain growers in the state.

“We believe that the request from our council and McLaren Vale, as well as the requests from many of our state’s other multi-million-dollar wine regions presented a unique opportunity for the newly appointed Minister for Agriculture to demonstrate the government’s continued support of South Australia’s billion-dollar grape and wine industries,” she said.

“Agriculture requires unique farming systems depending upon the type of crop, region, and critically – marketplace demands.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to agricultural legislation and policy development is unrealistic in 2020 and in meeting public expectations.”

Under the legislation, councils had a once-off six-month opportunity to apply to remain GM-free but applications could only be considered on trade and marketing grounds.

Greens MLC Mark Parnell said Basham’s decision to reject every council request was a “cruel hoax that will anger many local communities”.

“Councils in South Australia were led to believe that they would be able to determine their own futures.  Now, in a belated Halloween-like “trick”, they have had their hopes cruelly dashed by a Government that is hell-bent on opening all of mainland SA to GM crops, regardless of community views,” he said.

However, the decision was welcomed by Grain Producers SA as a “historic day for the grain industry.

“SA growers finally have certainty in planning their crop rotations as we head into the 2021 season with optimism,” GPSA chair Adrian McCabe said.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said outside of Kangaroo Island, there was no substantial evidence to justify any council area remaining GM-free.

“The GM Crop Advisory Committee assessed the 11 applications and deemed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to recommend designation as an area where no GM food crops can be grown. The Committee said individual businesses can maintain non-GM markets as occurs in other mainland states.

“The lifting of the GM moratorium gives our grain growers the certainty they need ahead of the 2021 season. It also brings our farmers and researchers onto a level playing field with their counterparts around the country who have had access to GM technology for at least a decade.”

Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Clare Scriven said councils had spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours consulting with key stakeholders, only to find that Basham had ignored their evidence and disregarded their concerns.

“It is now clear that the Marshall Liberal Government had no intention of listening to local community concerns when it comes to GM crops,” she said.

“Minister Basham has ignored every single council’s application with a complete disregard for the negative impacts on local primary producers and their communities.”

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