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City Councils Across
Australia Banning GE Crops

The Australian
February 14, 2002, Thursday

A GROWING number of local councils are forging ahead with moves to outlaw
genetically modified crop trials despite the industry ridiculing the bans as
unenforceable.

Rosalie Shire Council, in Queensland's Darling Downs food cradle, is the
latest of about 30 local governments across the nation to pass a resolution
declaring itself a GM-free zone.

While these councils have moved to ban trials, this cannot be enforced
because they have no legislative backing from state governments. Rosalie
Shire Mayor Noel Strohfeld was pushing the Queensland Department of Local
Government and Planning to alter state laws to allow official GM-free zones.

But so far no states have taken that step.

South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria have all released discussion
papers on the issue. Victoria rejected the zones last year.

Tasmania, however, has introduced a two-year moratorium on GM crops.
"We were worried about the environmental risks and especially in
transferring genes between species -- animals and plants, that sort of thing
... it could open up a Pandora's box," Mr Strohfeld said.

"We feel if there is something we do overlook now, it could start a chain
reaction catastrophe that perhaps the world is not ready for."

Greg Hallam, chief executive officer of the Local Government Association of
Queensland, said his association had "steered well clear of it" and did not
have a policy or view on GM-free zones.

"Our legal advice is they can't do it under the existing law. You have to
have the laws changed," Mr Hallam said.

Brian Arnst, spokesman for GM-company Monsanto, said he would be "surprised"
if any state government agreed to pass legislation allowing council areas to
claim GM-free status.

"There are people who are opposed to this technology and then there are
farmers for example in many of the shires that want this technology," he
said.

"This whole area of science is incredibly well researched and so the issues
around safety ... seem to be taken care of," Mr Arnst said.

"OK, there are still some issues from an environmental point of view that we
will continue to look at as we do our trial work."

Paula Fitzgerald, the executive manager of Agrifood Awareness Australia --
an industry body set-up to raise awareness of GM issues -- said banning
trials was a complicated issue.

"Some of them that are declaring themselves GM-free, may end up like the
areas you enter that have a sign that says we're a nuclear-free zone. So it
may be more a token thing at the end of the day rather than an actual
legislated zone," she said.

She said councils going down this path needed to establish what they wanted
banning. "What about GM foods? Are you going to try to remove them from
local supermarkets. What about gene technology used in medicines such as
insulin?," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald also said if councils banned GM products, "they may in fact
find themselves liable if and when a GM crop was found in the council area".


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