Grain traders and the WA government are refusing to divulge how much of the genetically modified canola grown in WA last year has been sold, amid reports that sales have been sluggish. While AWB claims the lack of market interest is due to low oil content and the poor finish to the growing season — and not the GM factor — non-GM canola varieties are fetching up to $50 per tonne more than GM canola.

While Hansard reveals that WA Minister for Agriculture Terry Redman told parliament that grain traders advised the Department of Agriculture and Food that a significant proportion of the 49,000 tonnes of GM canola grown last year had sold, exactly how much remains unsold, sitting in silos, has proved difficult to uncover.

AWB’s current GM canola market price is $535 per tonne, equating to over $26 million for the whole crop. But because of the low demand and the price gap, Elders-Toepfer Grain and Glencore Grain have decided not to market GM canola for the time being, preferring to concentrate on the more lucrative non-GM canola market in Europe.

“The grain traders have declined to release any additional information because release of the additional information may affect marketing negotiations,” Redman said.

Cooperative Bulk Handling’s media adviser Claire Armstrong told 3rd Degree: “The main issue is finding a market for GM canola. 95% of WA’s non-GM canola went to Europe last year to cater for the European Union’s bio-fuel market – a market with no tolerance for GM canola.”

Armstrong said CBH, WA’s main grain handler, prefers to remain impartial to the GM canola debate and can not provide specific storage figures and marketing information about grains.

“Typically we don’t give out specific grain quantities; however the canola crop for the 2010-11 harvest was down on previous years,” she said. “The overall canola crop for 2010/11 is reported as being at around 706,000 tonnes and GM Canola only made up about 6.5% of the total canola crop.”

Europe’s bio-fuel market is paying higher price premiums since the recent introduction of the European Union’s Renewal Energy Directive initiative. This has resulted in a significant price spread between GM and non-GM canola. Europe has a very limited supply of non-GM canola and the RED initiative means canola supplied to the bio-fuel industry must be produced in a sustainable way, and their definition of sustainability includes products and by-products being GM-free.

Anti-GM campaigner and Greens MP Lynne McLaren said WA risks losing this high volume of canola exports if it continues down the GM path. She said non-GM canola must be protected from contamination to ensure the stability of this important export market. She warned that if contamination happened WA would suffer the same fate as Canada, which lost its non-GM canola exports to Europe.

McLaren told 3rd Degree the government was forced to admit in June that none of the GM canola grown last year had been sold.

“It is highly unusual for canola stock to be carried over in this way and this was an extremely embarrassing admission for the government. It proves what we have been saying all along — our markets simply don’t want GM canola,” she said. “It is unacceptable to not reveal how much of the GM canola has been sold and how much it has been sold for. How are farmers supposed to make decisions about what crop to plant next year if they don’t know if there is a decent market for their product or not?”

McLaren says it’s unfortunate there is no current way that non-GM canola growers can ensure their exports to the European market aren’t contaminated and therefore rejected: “This is why the Greens argued against the lifting of the GM canola moratorium.”

McLaren says currently the only way for non-GM farmers to recoup their losses due to GM contamination is to sue their GM growing neighbours — as Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh is currently attempting to do.

“This pits neighbour against neighbour and will destroy the community spirit of our rural communities,” she said. “We desperately need farmer protection legislation to protect farmers like Steve Marsh from economic losses caused by GM contamination.”

The federal government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s website states: “Abnormal weather conditions in both the eastern and western states of Australia may have impacted on the final amount of GM canola that was harvested from the 2010 season.”

Weather conditions aside, consumer attitudes continue to be a significant factor influencing the market for GM canola. A 2010 report from the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society found world grains markets where GM varieties are available are “dominated by GM grains” though there are “niches for certified non-GM and organically produced grains, for which price premiums are paid”.

*This article is the latest in a 10-part 3rd Degree investigative series into the GM industry in Western Australia and the links between the WA government and Monsanto

Peter Fray

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