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Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers spoke in favour of a GE crop ban in the shire.
Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers spoke in favour of a GE crop ban in the shire.
Margaret River Shire goes GE free!

This means that, so far, a total of six of the eight shires in Western Australian Agriculture Minister Terry Redman’s electorate have passed anti-GE motions.

The decision follows the delivery of a petition signed by almost 1500 shire residents, and another signed by seven local doctors, to the Council. Over a hundred people crowded into the Council Chambers to hear the motion debated.

Local entertainer Johnno B Biscuit played a “GMO No” song as concerned members of the public filed into the chambers. Deputations were made by community members Dr Allan Walley and Eddie Donato, and canola farmer Julie Newman from the Network of Concerned Farmers.

During the deputations, Dr Walley said doctors were told to “do no harm”, and asked the council to do likewise.

Mr Donato spoke on local winemaker Vanya Cullen’s behalf regarding the risk to biodynamic vineyards and the Australian wine industry.

Ms Newman said she was once pro-GE, but had changed her attitude despite the fact her seed business would make more money if she took a deal offered by GE giant Monsanto.

“Now I can genuinely see it is the biggest risk to health, food and agriculture we’ve ever faced,” she said.

Julie Newman argues the introduction of GE canola will remove choice for both farmers and consumers, since contamination is inevitable and the proposed segregation protocols will not ensure a GE-free product.

Councillor Lyn Serventy asked that the shire protect conventional and organic farmers and the shire’s “clean, green” image.

The original motion put forward by Cr Serventy included a request to ban the growing and transportation of GE crops in the shire. However, shire president Steve Harrison argued that that the shire did not have jurisdiction over the GE issue and claimed that if the council banned GE altogether it would lose credibility.

One can only assume that Cr Harrison was pressured by the State Government into his stance. It is no doubt a source of some embarrassment to the Terry Redman that six of the eight shires in his electorate have opposed the growing of GE crops.

This is not the first time the State Government has intervened at this level. According to the Western Australia Local Governance Association (WALGA), Plantagenet Shire has been GE-free since 2002 because of contamination concerns. However in April this year Minister Redman released the list of GE canola trial sites. This included several trials in Plantagenet. On the same day that details of the trials were released, Dr David Bowran, from the WA Agriculture Department visited the Shire President, Councillor Kevin Forbes. At the next council meeting it was declared that there was no longer a concern with GE contamination.

Such intervention by the State Government at local shire level is unacceptable. Shires should have the right to declare themselves GE free and the current Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act allows them to do this. This legislation should be retained, as should the current moratorium on the commercial release of GE crops in the state. The Government is currently reviewing this legislation and the public submission period closes on 11th September.

Take action: make a submission to the WA Government review

Read more about the local opposition to GE crops

Make your shire a GE-free zone! GeneEthics have a resource kit on how to make your council GE free on their website, as well as GE free zone posters and petitions. For a list of WA councillors and for more advice contact Janet Grogan:

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