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Down Under News Roundup

(29 August - Cropchoice News) -- Sometimes it seems like Australia produces enough GMO news for two continents. If you want to know what's up with GMO crops Down Under, look no further. Here's a brief update on what's happening on biotech in one of America's big export market competitors.

Seed Company Screw-ups in Spotlight
On Friday, Monsanto admitted to an Australian Senate committee that it "accidentally" let cottonseed from unapproved varieties, grown on test plots, out of the gin and into cattle feed. Aventis already stands accused of five violations of standards during its GMO trails. Government authorities promise better supervision and say they are looking into the accusations. Another Australian company, which conducts trials for big seed companies, refused to provide the Senate with details about the location of its test plots. Activist groups are upset about the secrecy.

Tasmania Wants to be a GMO-free island
The national government is moving towards establishing regulations that may eventually allow the sale of GMO food crops (so far, only some GMO cotton varieties have been approved for planting). But there's considerable resistance from the public, some mainstream farm groups, and a few regional governments. Western Australia has imposed a two year moratorium on GMO releases. Spunky Tasmania, Australia's southern island state, wants to "opt-out" of GMOs and set itself up to supply non-biotech markets. One official calls GMO crops "pests". But the Feds are resisting permanent GMO-free islands. Tasmanian officials are threatening a legal showdown, saying they won't comply with federal laws if Tasmania is not allowed to be GMO-free.

Premiums for Canola?
First, a couple of years back, Aussie non-GMO canola started to eat into traditionally Canadian markets. Canada can't reliably supply the non-biotech demand. Now there are signs that Australian non-biotech canola is starting to demand a premium. As previously reported here, on a recent shipment of 150,000 tons European buyers paid an extra (US) $750,000. Reuters quoted an Australian trader as saying "We believe that we're starting to see the early stages of the much-waited premium for non-GMO canola."

Labelling Still Hot
It's going to happen, the question is when. Until then, GMO imports are theoretically banned, although a number of corn and soybean foods with GMOs are "grandfathered" because they started to be imported before the ban was in place. The Health Minister and consumer groups recently faced down efforts by some government officials to set the labelling threshold at 1% GMO content, favoring a 0.1% threshold. The committment to label (in New Zealand too, since the countries work together) has yet to be firmly scheduled.

SOURCE: Reuters, Farm Progress, AAP, Rural Press