The Sunday Age ~~ Melbourne ~~ November 11 2007
Food giant enters fight to keep GM bans
ONE of Australia's largest food companies has joined consumers in urging the State Government not to lift bans on genetically modified crops when it considers the issue this week.
In a letter to Premier John Brumby, as well as other premiers, Goodman Fielder, which owns brands including Meadow Lea, Praise, White Wings, and Helga's, warned that "consumers are increasingly concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the possible long-term effects of consuming genetically modified material".
The warning comes as the Victorian Government is considering whether to renew a ban on genetically modified canola crops when the four-year ban expires on February 29.
Bob Phelps, of Gene Ethics, said he would deliver to Mr Brumby tomorrow morning a list of more than 200
businesses opposed to lifting the ban and postcards from 15,000 people who want the ban to continue indefinitely.
The protest would be timed to occur just before cabinet was expected to consider the issue at 10.30am, Mr Phelps said.
An independent panel headed by Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal,
has been considering what impact ending the ban would have on farmers and Victoria's food exports.
The panel's report has been sent to Agriculture Minister Joe Helper and Mr Brumby is expected to make an announcement on the ban by the end of the month.
Goodman Fielder's chief executive, Peter Margin, warned state premiers in a letter sent on November 1 that once genetically modified crops were introduced, the decision could never be reversed.
"I strongly urge you to maintain the current state moratorium on genetically modified crops," he wrote.
"Our products cover every meal and every day we deliver our products to around 30,000 supermarkets, convenience stores and food service customers through Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands." Mr Margin said in the company's experience "most consumers prefer foods that are not genetically modified".
"Goodman Fielder is of the view that, in a world of ever increasing globalisation, Australia's current status as a GM-free producer gives the company an essential international competitive advantage," he wrote.
The Western Australian Agriculture Minister, Kim Chance, released a statement backing the call from Goodman Fielder.
Western Australia is opposed to any easing of bans on genetically modified crops, while other states, including NSW, are considering removing the bans.
Mr Brumby has previously expressed his support for GM technology and his handling of the issue has caused concern among some state Labor MPs.
Four Government MPs Steve Herbert, Bob Stensholt, Carlo Carli and Tammy Lobato recently raised concerns, in a reportedly tense caucus meeting, about the GM decision-making process.
The Labor members were concerned that backbenchers would have no say in the final decision on whether to lift the ban.
As it stands, the Government does not require a vote over the ban because the current moratorium will simply expire in February if it is not renewed.
Opponents of the process were also incensed that the Premier had allowed his parliamentary secretary, Luke Donnellan, to lead the pro-GM push within the party.
It is not just Mr Brumby's role in the GM debate that has come under scrutiny.
Questions have also been raised about the independence of the head of the "independent panel" Sir Gus appointed by the Government to consider lifting the ban.
Ms Lobato said she was concerned about the "impartiality of the panel" after it emerged that Sir Gus had expressed on ABC radio last year his support for lifting the ban. Sir Gus said the ban on GM crops amounted to "crass populism" and he considered it to be "bad politics and I think it's bad policy".
Ms Lobato has also questioned the timing of what she called a "biased" GM forum held at Parliament House for MPs.
In an email to all Labor MPs last month, Ms Lobato questioned if the Brumby leadership was attempting to influence the outcome of the review by holding the forums.
A Government spokesman, Licardo Prince, said the review's findings would "inform our decision" on whether or not to introduce a new ban.
Sir Gus could not be contacted yesterday.