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WA wheat belt undone by government confusion

As a casual observer you’d be doing well if you could pin down the WA government’s real position on genetically modified (GM) wheat.

The Agriculture Minister, Terry Redman (National Party), is a vocal advocate of GM and a dedicated fan of big, cashed-up multinational agribusiness in general. 

He was the minister behind the removal of the moratorium on GM canola in 2008. This year organic farmer Steve Marsh lost years of work and income after GM contaminated his farm. As a result he’s been forced to sue his neighbour.

Redman’s eagerness to let GM companies have their way has resulted in a poorly managed rollout of a new technology without adequate protection for either GM or traditional farmers.

To make things worse, Redman has sold off a 20% chunk of the state government owned grain research corporation, Intergrain, to none other than Monsanto while pumping millions of tax payer dollars into R & D projects run by various arms of the biotech industry.

Strangely, someone forgot to pass the message on to the WA Premier.  Just last week, while visiting trading partners in Japan, (WA’s best customer) Premier Colin Barnett (Liberal) assured the Japanese that no GM wheat would find its way into their noodles from WA.

Japanese consumers don’t want it - in fact no consumers want it - so WA is not in the business of selling it, said the Premier – and it has no plans to be.  You see, WA’s wheat farmers already supply some of the best wheat in the world - good, drought-resistant and profitable, all without GM.

Undeterred, a few days later WA hosted a promotional conference for Terry Redman’s pro-GM agribusiness mates - like Farm Weekly, Agrifood awareness, WANTFA, Croplife, Bayer, Syngenta and Dow  -  to talk about how easily access to WA’s farm heritage could be bought; and how the future was all about multinationals, patented seeds and chemical cocktails. 

Greenpeace turned up at the conference to stage a mock auction highlighting this very fact.

Back in parliament a few days later, opposition Agriculture spokesman Mick Murray (ALP) asked the Premier for clarity.  Did he or didn’t he support WA growing GM wheat?  No, said the Premier. Or rather, sort of.  But not now and not in the foreseeable future.

It’s great to see the Premier recognising that no-one but big business wants GM.  And it’s great news that maybe WA is not quite lost to the global GM pushers.

But tricky questions remain and everyone's confused:

Why is the  taxpayer helping biotech companies run trials of GM wheat in Corrigan and Williams? And why is food and agriculture minister Terry Redman cosying up to the likes of Monsanto?

Farmers and consumers alike can’t tell who’s actually running WA’s food and agriculture policy, which after all, affects the whole country.  That means taxpayers are getting a dud deal, farmers can’t plan for the future, and consumers continue to be kept in the dark.

Truefood Network