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NSW to rule out GM crop zones

SYDNEY - The state Government in New South Wales, a key canola-producing region, plans to introduce legislation which rules out the establishment of exclusion zones for genetically modified (GM) crops.
A spokesman for New South Wales Agriculture Minister Richard Amery said yesterday that the legislation, to be introduced to Parliament in coming days, rejected exclusion zones as unrealistic.
Analysts said the legislation to provide rules for gene technology indicated an effective win for pro-GM advocates and showed the difficulty of providing for both GM and non-GM production, because of the potential for contamination.
Australia's federal Government has left it to state Governments to decide whether to set up exclusion zones for GM and non-GM crops, with GM canola due to be introduced soon.
Australian farmers fear being crushed by relative productivity losses if they completely reject GM canola, but also see opportunities for GM-free canola as European and Japanese consumers reject GM products.
Zoning had been seen as one way to create non-GM regions, but the New South Wales Farmers Association said it would not guarantee that conventional product reached consumers GM-free.
"Drawing up lines on a map is going to create further complications for people on either side of the line and won't guarantee what farmers who want to produce GM-free products are looking for," said Jonathan McKeown, the association's chief executive.
He said it was not possible to say whether the world trade would treat any Australian canola as GM-free after the first crop of GM canola was commercially introduced.
Once GM crops were being grown, any step in transportation, handling and value-adding in food processing could contaminate the product, he said.
Other Australian states were in line with the NSW decision to reject such zones, industry and Government officials said.
Australia's 1.5 million to 2 million tonnes of conventionally produced annual canola exports compete primarily with Canada's 4 to 5 million tonnes of mostly GM canola on world markets.
A spokeswoman for the Australian unit of French-German science group Aventis, which is conducting field trials on GM canola in Australia, said it hoped soon to be given permits to grow a commercial crop.
"The commercial introduction will be very gradual, based around that trial programme in that current permit," she said.
Whether that would mean its first commercial GM crop would be grown next year would depend on the Australian regulator.
She said the timing of approvals might mean it would be too late to plant Australia's first GM canola crop next year.