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GM crops yet to impact wine industry

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The lifting of a moratorium on genetically modified crops in South Australia late last year is yet to impact the state’s wine industry despite concerns the rule change could cost millions in lost exports.

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Wine Industry Special Report

However, the wine industry says it is still “considerably” worried about potential erosion of its clean and green image among consumers in the future.

Eleven councils – all in or near major wine regions – last year applied to the State Government to have local moratoriums introduced in 2004 extended.

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

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.

Other councils that applied to extend the moratorium included Adelaide Hills, Alexandrina, Barossa, Berri Barmera Council, Playford, Yankalilla, Mount Barker, Tea Tree Gully, Gawler and City of Victor Harbor councils.

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.

But Primary Industries Minister David Basham announced in November 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 in 2019.

At the time Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson described the decision as a “kick in the guts” for the local wine industry.

All other mainland states allow genetically modified crops to be grown, with canola and cotton the first to be approved for growth in Australia.

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.

MGWTA general manager Jennifer Lynch told InDaily the association was not aware of any negative impacts of the lifting of the moratorium so far.

“None of our certified organic and or biodynamic wine grape growers and wine exporters have had to directly disprove the impacts of GM crops grown in the McLaren Vale region… nor had their certifications challenged,” she said.

According to Grain Producers SA, only about 20 per cent of canola growers in the state had taken up the GM option this season.

But strong interest following a good 2021 crop is expected to see GM canola plantings significantly increase next season.

Lynch said the association was still “considerably” concerned about the potential for future ramifications.

“By removing a barrier to trade for South Australia’s $82 million canola crop, the South Australian Government’s decision has introduced an unnecessary barrier to trade for South Australia’s $1.1 billion wine exports, and specifically – certified organic and bio-dynamic wine exporters,” she said.

“Australia has the largest amount of certified-organic agricultural land worldwide, and consumer demand for certified organic and biodynamic product is only increasing, globally.

“I suggest it’s only a matter of time before our primary producers and policymakers are meeting again, and quickly, to review this decision.”

Representative wine bodies in the Adelaide Hills and Barossa declined to comment on the issue.

Basham said the State Government strongly supported the wine and grains industries.

He said there had been more than 300 accreditations approved to grow GM canola across the state and more than 20,000ha planted.

“The strong interest in this first season shows a significant number of farmers feel they can benefit from accessing GM technology,” Basham said.

“The extensive investigations taken on this issue demonstrated there would be no negative impacts on the wine industry. This has proven to be true.”

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