Jennifer: Over the last few weeks, country towns throughout Western Australia have been celebrating the onset of Spring. I have enjoyed heading out to Quairading, Mukinbudin, Narrogin and Tambellup to attend the annual Agricultural Society Shows in these towns. Making the long hours behind the wheel much more enjoyable were the picturesque golden canola crops, visible as far as the eye could see. Interestingly, as I found out today, the crops I was admiring could well have been genetically modified.
GM canola trials began recently in Western Australia at twenty different locations across the State. This includes seventeen farmer trials and three research trials, which aim to establish whether the GM canola can be successfully segregated from non-GM canola throughout the supply chain. One research site is located in Geraldton, 430 kilometres north of Perth; another is located at Esperance, on the south-west coast.
The GM herbicide-tolerant canola to be trialled in WA is called “Roundup Ready”, and is tolerant to the “Roundup” herbicide and glyphosate. Two genes from a soil bacterium have been introduced into “Roundup Ready” to render the canola plant herbicide-tolerant. Four herbicide-tolerant canola varieties have been available to Australian farmers since 1993. Two of these varieties are non-genetically modified.
The GM canola harvested at the WA trial sites will most likely be sold overseas, however a moratorium in Western Australia prevents its commercial production. GM canola has been commercially cultivated in the USA and Canada since 1996, and its hybrid varieties make up 60 percent of all the canola grown in these countries.
In 2008, the New South Wales and Victorian governments approved the cultivation of 10 000 hectares of GM canola. Moratoriums were subsequently lifted in these states. However, major Australian canola consumers, including Flora, ETA and Meadow Lea, have since declared a boycott of GM-canola.