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South Australia to lift ban on GM Crops after 16 year

Abhijeet Banerjee
Abhijeet Banerjee

Finally after a long span of 16 years and after lots of attempts in 2019, South Australia has decided to lift its ban on genetically modified crops beginning next season. Relevant officials decided to lift the ban following an unbiased review and it was concluded after talks that concluded that the monetary loss since 2004 for just canola crops was estimated to be 33 million.

Grain Producers of South Australia SA, the state’s leading lobby group for grain growers had stated that there interest in trialing GM canola varieties (currently being grown across the rest of the country), is quite high in present term.

However there are concerns that there may end up being a patchwork across the state with scattered councils maintaining the ban, hence difficulties across the sector may emerge. It may be noted that the law allows for councils to remain GM-free. But in order to be GM free, a council has a period of six-month for applying. South Australia is the only mainland state which has not allowed GM crop cultivation after 2004.

According to a review prepared by University of Adelaide agricultural economist Kym Anderson in Feb 2019, the ban had cost farmers more than $33 million from 2004 to 2018 and would cost them another $5 million over the next six years. The South Australian government had been extending the ban since November 2006. The ban, first imposed in 2004, was due to have ended in 2007, is due to end soon in the state.

Given below is some of the points given by Kym Anderson in the Independent Review in February 2019 with respect to economic and environmental impacts of GM adoption globally: 

The adoption of GM crop varieties since the mid-1990s has had a significant impact on the world’s agricultural and food production. To repeat this report’s opening sentences, by 2017 (following two decades of gradual adoption) there were 190 million hectares of cropland (13% of the world’s total) sown to GM varieties in 24 countries (Appendix 1), a little over half of it being in developing countries. A further 43 countries, including Australia, import GM products. In 2017 GM varieties accounted for 77% of the global area sown to soybean, 80% of maize, 32% of cotton and 30% of canola (ISAAA 2017, p. 3). In those countries in which farmers have been permitted to grow GM crops, most growers embraced this biotechnology rapidly because it raises their net incomes, is having positive agronomic, environmental and health impacts (less tillage, less chemicals), and is providing more-effective weed control. The most widely cited meta-analysis of 147 empirical studies around the world found that switching to GM varieties had reduced chemical pesticide use on average by 37%, raised crop yields by an average of 22%, and boosted farmers’ net profits by 68% (Klümper and Qaim 2014).

In their latest annual global survey, Brookes and Barfoot (2018a) estimate that the net economic benefits at the farm level amounted to US$186 billion in nominal terms during 1996-2016, with two-thirds of those gains coming from gains in yields and the remainder from cost savings. Through yield increases, those GM varieties have added the following to global production over that 21-year period: 405 million tonnes of maize, 213 million of soybeans, 27 million of cotton and 12 million of canola. Moreover, the adoption of GM insect resistant and herbicide tolerant biotechnology has reduced pesticide spraying by 8% and, as a result, has decreased the adverse environmental impact associated with pesticide use on these crops by one-sixth. GM technology has also facilitated desirable tillage changes and cuts in fuel use. This has lowered the release of greenhouse gas emissions from the GM cropping area by the equivalent to removing 17 million cars from the world’s roads (Brookes and Barfoot 2018b).

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