A report due out in the next two weeks will reveal whether global bioscience company Monsanto was given special treatment by the Western Australian Liberal Government when it acquired shares of InterGrain.

The Labor party is concerned Monsanto may have received special treatment from the Barnett Government and has requested the report, which will reveal shareholding information of Monsanto’s acquisition of shares into InterGrain, which is part owned by the government.

InterGrain is a crop breeding company with wheat and barley breeding programs that target the major cereal growing areas in Australia.

The partnership with InterGrain and Monsanto was announced in August this year, with Monsanto acquiring nearly a 20% share in the crop breeding company.

Shadow minister for agriculture Mick Murray said it was only fair WA taxpayers knew how much Monsanto paid for the shares and whether they received special treatment.

“The public have a right to know whether a once independent government facility is being sold off at a cheap price,” he said.

Monsanto has indicated it will increase its shareholding of InterGrain to 26% in the future, which would give it the same number of shares as Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

This would leave the once state government-owned company with only a 48% share in the InterGrain, meaning decisions about the company could be made by Monsanto and GRDC voting together.

Dr Maarten Stapper, Independent Farming Systems Agronomist, believes InterGrain is on the wrong track by forming a relationship with Monsanto, because it will be on Monsanto’s terms.

“It’s all about profit and using chemicals to make profit,” he said.

“The more power Monsanto gets the more they will misuse it, and we need more competition not less competition.”

Agriculture minister Terry Redman believes Monsanto’s minority shareholding would enable greater access to advanced breeding technologies and germplasm of improved varieties to benefit our growers.

“These breeding technology services will significantly improve our wheat varieties and ultimately deliver higher yields and value to WA growers,” he said.

The minister’s comments come nearly six months after Gene Ethics, a not-for-profit organisation campaigning for a sustainable GM-free society, slammed the Barnett Government for allowing GM crops to be grown in WA.

Gene Ethics revealed in February this year that Premier Colin Barnett was sent a letter by three European grain traders that they would not buy WA grain if GM canola was grown in the state.

Japan has also signalled its commitment to GM-free crops after signing contracts with South Australian growers, when the South Australian Government extended its GM canola ban until 2014.

Director of Gene Ethics Bob Phelps dismissed the agriculture minister’s comment that WA farmers would receive higher prices for their crops with the Monsanto deal.

“In Victoria last season, farmers who produced GM free canola were paid up to $15 per tonne more than farmers who grew GM,” he said.

Dr Stapper agrees with Phelps, saying farmers have to pay for the privilege to use the GM, and that it is the GM-companies that make money out of this, not the farmers.

“There could be short-term benefits but in the long term there’s negatives, like in the United States this is very clear after already 10 years of GM cropping,” he said.

“There are big problems with resistant weeds.”

Dr Stapper also said that no scientific study has proven that GM is safe. Although Monsanto has conducted a scientific study, he claims the company manipulated it to get the answers they want.

“As a scientist you can design an experiment and get the answers you want,” he said.

This story originally appeared at 3rd Degree. 3rd Degree is written and produced by students in journalism units of Edith Cowan University’s Bachelor of Communications Degree offered by the School of Communications and Arts.

Peter Fray

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