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Tasmanian government committee issues report on GMOs

(July 11, 2001 – CropChoice news) – The select committee that the Tasmania parliament established last year to investigate genetic engineering in the wake of a moratorium on transgenic crops released its report today. It recommended an open-ended continuation of the moratorium, said Peg Putt, a member of parliament from the Green Party.

Here is a release from Putt and a timeline of events. Peg Putt MHA

Wednesday 11th June 2001


Environmental Opt-Out for States Urged

The Tasmanian Greens believe that the key recommendations of the Tasmanian Parliament’s Joint Select Committee Report on Gene Technology released today are:

* that an open-ended moratorium on both food and non-food GE crops be continued,


* That the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act be amended to include provision for the States to opt-out of growing GE crops on environmental grounds (in addition to the current provision which allows for opt-out on marketing grounds only).

* That common law relief for GE contamination may be insufficient and require legislative remedy.

Greens MHA Peg Putt who was a member of the six person committee which contained representatives from the three political parties in the Tasmanian Parliament and independents from the Legislative Council (upper house) is generally pleased with the Committee Report, which is a consensus document.

Ms Putt says that the avalanche of information supplied to the Committee led members to conclude that whilst Tasmania’s key markets were antagonistic to GE foods, or at the best lukewarm, a cautious approach to protect market share and our clean, green image by remaining GE free was the only sensible short term option.

Ms Putt had her disagreement with some aspects of the Report recorded in the minutes, specifically:

* That the moratorium be reviewed after five years for food crops and after three years for non-food crops, instead of the two year review adopted by the Committee,

* That all research on GE crops be conducted within a secure, contained laboratory instead of the somewhat looser containment provisions adopted by the Committee, and which reflect current research trials containment provisions applied under the Tasmanian moratorium,

* That labelling regulations should be changed to indicate whether a GE process has been used in producing the food, so that members of the community holding ethical concerns will have enough information to make a choice about purchase of any product deriving from the utilisation of gene technology, whereas the Committee accepted the labelling provisions due to come into force in Australia and New Zealand at the end of this year as adequate.

"I am pleased that our Committee concluded that a cautious approach must prevail and that whilst our markets are jumpy about GE foods we should protect our economic best interests by staying GE-free and continuing the moratorium," Ms Putt said.

"We have also recognised that environmental impacts in Tasmania could potentially be serious and as our experience with GE canola trials has already demonstrated that national safeguards may be inadequate for our particular environment, that we need the right to make the final determination about the possible ecological effects."

"It is important to understand that many of the problems of GE in agriculture apply equally to food and non-food crops, and that systems to segregate them adequately and to be sure that other agricultural products are not adversely affected are simply not developed."

"There is no point in producing GE for a world which is crying out for GE-free, and a delay will enable us to see the direction in which market demand develops, and to begin to get more evidence of environmental and health and safety effects of GE produce."

"Members of the Committee hold widely divergent political views but we have worked together to come to a reasoned approach which safeguards our economy and environment in a climate of uncertainty about this new technology, and acknowledges the need for further work on the feasibility of crop segregation and for a future review when more concrete answers to key concerns have become available."

"A continued moratorium protects agricultural producers, both conventional and organic. The onus is now on the Tasmanian government as to whether they will take on board the Committee’s recommendations and continue the GE crops moratorium," Ms Putt said. "I urge the government not to delay but to move quickly to decide their policy, and to outline the timeline and decision-making process they will follow."

Timeline of Key Events

25 November 1998 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls for State Government to insist upon labelling of GE foods at national level.

15 December 1998 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls for Health Minister Judy Jackson to vote for labelling of GE foods at the national Health Ministers meeting.

23 June 1999 Tasmanian Greens Party call for Tasmania to go Clean, Green and GE Free, and commence state GE Free campaign.

22 July 1999 Greens MHA Peg Putt travels to the UK and Europe to investigate developments in consumer responses to genetically engineered foods, and to meet consumer groups, lobby groups, supermarket chains and regulators.

16 September 1999 Greens MHA Peg Putt delivers findings from UK tour: * Consumers strongly antagonistic to GE foods;
* Organic producers unable to meet market demand;
* Supermarkets responding to consumer demand by moving ahead of government regulation in order to capture markets;
* Labelling GE food is necessary but consumers also demand choice of buying GE free;
* Leading supermarkets have responded to consumer demand by removing GE ingredients from their ‘home’ brands;

5 October 1999 Greens call on State Government to badge Tasmania as GE Free in food production to maximise market opportunities. Food Council sub-committee established to look into GE issue.

25 October 1999 Australian & New Zealand Health Ministers delay decision on labelling of genetically engineered foods.

26 October 1999 In response to question by Greens MHA Peg Putt, Minister Llewellyn confirmed that GE food crop trials had and were being conducted in Tasmania, although he could not provide any details as to location or any precautions in place. Minister Llewellyn provides commitment in Parliament to make public crop trial locations and other details relating to operation of the sites.

27 October 1999 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls on the State Government to halt immediately all GE food crop trials

10 November 1999 Greens MHA Peg Putt announces that:
* Tasmanian Government Departmental Research Stations at Cressy and Forth were growing Monsanto GE canola, not as a trial, but as off-season seed bulking for the northern hemisphere;
* That GE poppy crops had been approved for the east coat and north of the state, but the Department was unaware as to which sites had actually been planted;
* GE potato trials were undertaken about 5 years ago but the Departmental staff could not say where, but they though it was probably on a research station, or whether any clean up measures had been taken;
* Neighbours were not notified of the planting of GE crops although councils were;
* There existed no protection measures to prevent pollen drift, nor any state-based assessment processes involving he community;
* Only opportunity for community consultation is via the Commonwealth Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee; and
* Organic vegetable trials were underway on a government research station also growing GE canola.

16 November 1999 "In respect to the issue of the research farm, I want to make it very clear that when I answered previous questions in this House concerning GM crops I was not aware that these contracts had been entered into by the department in relation to GM crop trials on the research stations. I was certainly aware that there was research going on, but not specifically whether or not it was in the research station. Since being advised about that contract, I can inform the House that I have asked the secretary in fact to put an end to the trials." Minister Llewellyn in response to a question from Peg Putt MHA. HANSARD 16 November 1999.

23 November 1999 Under questioning from Greens MHA Peg Putt, Minister Llewellyn refuses to obtain legal advice regarding stopping GE crop trials on private land. HANSARD 23 November 1999.

10 February 2000 Tasmanian Greens say that Commonwealth ‘Opt-out’ clause may be insufficient and that Tasmanian Government needs to decide to go it alone.

11 February 2000 GE Free Tasmania releases survey of 69 food outlets in and around Hobart.
90% supported compulsory labelling of GE food and products containing GE ingredients;
67% said labelling would affect their purchasing policy;
91% called for strong government regulation of GE industry;
80% felt they lacked sufficient information about food they served;
74% did not know whether the food they served contained GE.

28 March 2000 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls for Tasmanian government to declare Tasmania GE Free, and halt any current GE trials as well as any in the pipeline, instead of relying upon the good-will of the Federal government to cease authorising any further such trials.

19 April 2000 Government confirms in response to questions from Peg Putt MHA that the State is undertaking active consideration of going it alone should the Commonwealth refuse to rule out future crop trials and that the Minister has written to the Federal Minister for Health, Michael Wooldridge requesting that no further applications for GE crop trials are to be approved for Tasmanian locations.

24 May 2000 Government warns Tasmanian farmers from further involvement with GE crop trials.

20 June 2000 Greens MHA Peg Putt tables motion for a Select committee into gene technology and its social, environmental and economic impacts on Tasmania… and that the inquiry is conducted in 2 parts: gene technology and food, and gene technology and health.

27 June 2000 Petition signed by 1200 Tasmanians calling for a GE-Free Tasmania tabled in Parliament.

28 June 2000 Greens MHA Peg Putt tables the Genetic Engineering in Agriculture Prohibition Bill 2000.

28 June 2000 Debate begins on Greens MHA Peg Putt’s motion to establish a Select Committee into gene technology and food, and gene technology and health. Ms Putt agrees to defer the vote as requested by the government until the resumption of Parliament following the winter break, since the Minister indicated the inquiry would be supported, the Greens would be represented on the Committee, and that in the meanwhile regulatory action will be undertaken to prevent further GE crop trials in Tasmania.

20 July 2000 State Government declares temporary moratorium on GE crops, under the State Plant Quarantine Act 1997.

28 July 2000 Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers announce compulsory labelling of GE food or ingredients. However, loophole remains where labelling is not required for food produced from GE crops and processes.

3 August 2000 National ALP Conference rejects opt-out clause for states in national GE policy

7 August 2000 Royal Commission into Genetic Modification begins in New Zealand (and has yet to deliver its findings)

23 August 2000 State Government gazettes an amendment to the original moratorium declaration, which amended the definition and made provision for exemptions to the moratorium, under Section 99 of the Plant Quarantine Act 1997.

29 August 2000 Government announces establishment of Joint Select Committee on Gene Technology. Committee to report by 30 March 2001. (Day before the vote on Green MHA Peg Putt’s motion calling for an Inquiry into gene technology)

November 2000 Senate Community Affairs References Committee delivers report on the Gene Technology Bill 2000, A Cautionary Tale: Fish Don’t Lay Tomatoes.

6 November 2000 Commonwealth announces amendment to Gene Technology Bill, providing for partial opt-out provisions on marketing grounds only.

20 December 2000 Tasmanian Government announces exemption for Monsanto GE canola crop trial over summer.

11-12 January 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt attends international conference on GMO Free Zones, European Parliament, Brussels.

19 January 2001 Deadline for objections to 4 new applications for Ge crop trials to be conducted in Tasmania. One Monsanto GE canola trial, 2 Aventis Ge canola trials and 1 Aventis GE indian mustard trial.

20 January 2001 Advertisment placed in 3 state newspapers advertising Public Hearings of the Joint Select Committee on Gene Technology.

21 February 2001 Head of IOGTR informs the General Manager, Food Agriculture & Fisheries, DPIWE, of Aventis and Monsanto breaches across 57 previous GE trial sites.

28 February 2001 Minister Llewellyn informs media of 57 GE trial site breaches. States on ABC Radio that he would endeavour to make public all GE trial sites once he has the information.

1 March 2001 Greens Senator Bob Brown tables in the Senate the following motion:
"That the Senate: condemns the failure of the Government and the Gene Technology Regulator to monitor and safely control 58 sites of genetically modified crops in Tasmania by foreign companies Aventis and Monsanto.

Calls on the Minister for Health to provide the Senate by the next sitting day, an explanation for his failure and details on:

(a) What prosecution or other legal action is being taken
(b) What urgent moves have been set in train to contain spread of genetically modified material within and beyond the 100 metres buffer zone for the crop area
(c) When and how the Minster was informed and when and how he reacted
(d) The potential damage, direct and indirect, to Tasmania’s agriculture sector, in particular its growing organic produce sector’s wellbeing.
(e) All approved, current and previous, GE sites inTasmania.

Senate passes motion.

5 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls on the Minister to use Quarantine powers under the Plant Quarantine Act to seize documentation to identify trial site locations.

8 March 2001 In response to Senator Bob Brown, Federal Minister for Health, Michael Woolridge, rejects any financial responsibility for the GE crop trial sites in Tasmania, saying "matters of economic costs … to the agriculture sector" are the responsibility of the state.

13 March 2001 Leader of the Opposition, Sue Napier tables motion censuring the Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment for his handling of GE trials.

13 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt tables motion calling for a judicial inquiry to be conducted into GE crop trials in Tasmania to investigate and report on the number, nature, extent and locations of GE crop trials, liability and compensation issues.

13 March 2001 Minister Llewellyn informs the house during Question Time that although his Department was aware of some of the GE sites, he had not been informed. Minister also announces he now has all the GE crop trial locations, obtained from Aventis and Monsanto directly.

14 March 2001 In response to questioning from Greens MHA Peg Putt, Minister Llewellyn backs away from releasing the full list of 57 GE crop trial sites, instead will consider releasing the 11 GE breach locations, and will consider legal action against the agribusinesses involved.

14 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt’s motion calling for a judicial inquiry to be conducted into GE crop trials in Tasmania is voted down by both ALP and Liberals.

19 March 2001 Brighton City Council passes motion by Mayor Tony Foster, declaring the Brighton municipality a "No Zone" for GE crop trials.

20 March 2001 Tasmanian government announces that Commonwealth regulators have refused to provide details of GE crop trial locations. Greens MHA Peg Putt urge the Government to use the Plant Quarantine Act to obtain the information from the local agents. The Minister states that the Plant Quarantine Act cannot be used for this purpose.

20 March 2001 The Kentish Council unanimously pass a motion "that no further genetically engineered crop trials be permitted within the municipality."

22 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt calls for full immediate public disclosure of GE crop trial locations. In response to questions from Peg Putt, Minister Llewellyn states legal advice from the Solicitor General regarding the public release of GE crop trial locations is being considered. 27 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt tables motion calling on the Minister to, "publicly notify the locations of all 58 previous GE crop sites in order to protect the interests of farmers and the Tasmanian environment, and rejects the notion that the commercial interests of the proponents of GE crops should override those of innocent third parties and of Tasmania whose livelihoods and clean, green image may be at risk."

28 March 2001 Above motion defeated by ALP and Liberals.

28 March 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt asks questions regarding application of Solicitor General’s legal advice, and whether action would be taken under the Plant Quarantine Act.

29 March 2001 Greens MHA tables petition signed by 384 citizens calling for a ban on the release of GE organisms into the environment, and calling for support of the organic industry.

29 March 2001 Minister Llewellyn announces that his legal advice is to not release publicly the locations of the 57 GE crop trial locations but instead will establish a phone-in line for farmers concerned about proximity to the trials.

29 March 2001 Minister announces that the report of the Joint Select Committee on Gene Technology will be extended till Thursday 31 May 2001

3 April 2001 Dr Allan Hogue, World Health Organisation, calls for open disclosure of all Australian GE crop trial locations and conditions.

6 April 2001 Commonwealth IOGTR releases 2 audits on Aventis Cropscience Pty Ltd past canola trial sites in Tasmania and Monsanto Australia Ltd past canola trial sites in Tasmania respectively. The Audits reveal that instead of 11 breach sites there were 21 breach sites.
* Aventis: 49 sites with 18 breaches
* Monsanto: 8 sites with 3 breaches
Locations of all sites still withheld.

10 April 2001 Minister Llewellyn announces that GE breaches has been sent to the DPP, for possible legal action against the agribusinesses involved.

10 April 2001 Sorell Council votes unanimously for motion declaring the municipality GE Free.

11 April 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt tables motion That in the light of the Commonwealth Interim Office of the Gene Technology Regulator's Penultimate Reports on Monsanto and Aventis genetically engineered crop trial breaches, the full story of what has occurred in Tasmania and how it has been dealt with, now be told.

11 April 2001 Greens MHA Peg Putt debates above motion and during debate reads the location details, including coordinates, of 23 previous GE crop trial locations into the Hansard.

The Government and the Liberals denied permission for the maps of these trials to be tabled. 2 May 2001 Motion to declare Clarence City Council a GE Free Zone lost 6-6 when Mayor Cathy Edwards abstained from the vote, citing membership of the Joint Select Committee on Gene Technology as reason.

31 May 2001 The Minister announces that the report of the Joint Select Committee for Gene Technology will be extended till Friday, 29 June 2001.

15 June 2001 Government releases further Audits of previous GE crop trial sites, detailing further breaches, in the vicinity of 40-50, and volunteer plants, on and off sites. The Minister still refuses to make sites public.

21 June 2001 Commonwealth Gene Technology Act 2000 comes into force. Has a semi opt-out clause, applicable on marketing grounds only.

21 June 2001 Debate begins on Tasmanian Gene Technology Bill 2001, the state’s legislative component to be consistent with the national regulatory scheme.

26 June 2001 Minister confirms in Parliament in response to question from Greens MHA Peg Putt, that there was another breach not mentioned in the Commonwealth or State audits, of a canola GE seed spill along the roadside in the Bridport-Waterhouse vicinity.

26 June 2001 Minister announces that time the report of the Joint Select Committee on Gene Technology will be extended until Tuesday, 31 July.

6 July 2001 Deadline for applications for consideration of commercial-in-confidence status for agribusiness companies as stipulated by Gene Technology Act 2000.

7 July 2001 OGTR makes public Aventis GE crop trial sites in Tasmania. Monsanto and GlaxoSmithKline get applications for consideration of commercial-in-confidence status in on time.

10 July 2001 The Experts Group, chaired by Dr. Robert Napier, releases its report.

11 July 2001 The Tasmanian Joint Select Committee into Gene Technology releases Committee’s Report and Recommendations.

? State Government decision on accepting Joint Select Committee into Gene Technology’s recommendations pending…