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Western Australia bans genetically modified crops

(Wednesday, March 24, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Roger Martin ad Michael Bachelard, NEWS.com.au, 03/23/04: WESTERN Australia has become the first state to ban genetically modified crops, declaring it wants to tap consumer sentiment against GM foods.

While the state had a moratorium on commercial GM crops until 2006, Premier Geoff Gallop said he wanted to capitalise on the marketing benefits of a full ban.

The ban would still allow laboratory and small field trials.

Most states have moratoriums on commercial GM crops, but Western Australia is the first to ban them outright.

Dr Gallop said his state was adopting a "precautionary principle" on GM crops.

"The jury is still out and, from a marketing point of view, it is very important for Western Australia to keep its clean and green reputation," he said.

"We certainly don't want to jeopardise our industry and, with the consumer sentiment currently going against GM crops internationally, we want to make sure our reputation is held intact."

The ban follows a parliamentary inquiry last year that suggested farmers could capitalise on the state being declared GM-free. It found that at least in the short term, there were market advantages in not embracing the new technology.

The Victorian Government has yet to decide on a proposed commercial trial of GM canola, even though a 12-month moratorium ends in a month. Faced with backbench opposition, sources say the Government is watching the strength of any political fallout over the NSW Government's announced trial.

Premier Steve Bracks said yesterday he would make an announcement within weeks.

The West Australian ban has divided the community. The Pastoralists and Graziers Association warned that it could lead to the decline or even devastation of the agriculture.

PGA spokesman Leon Bradley said farmers would be fighting overseas and interstate competitors with "one hand tied behind their backs" because other producers would have access to more economic GM crops.

Mr Bradley accused the Gallop Government of caving in to the green lobby to secure preferences at the next election.

But the West Australian Farmers Federation supports the ban after a survey last year found most of its members were wary of GM crops.

WAFF spokesman Garry Hine said contamination of regular crops by GM crops was a real risk and farmers were happy with the status quo.

Network of Concerned Farmers national spokeswoman Julie Newman said the Government's decision was commendable.