Greenpeace Australia Pacific has launched a critical report detailing the development of genetically engineered (GE) wheat in Australia. The findings show if GE wheat prevails, it will have a widespread impact on Australian consumers, farmers, the economy and the environment. We need to act now, before GE wheat is on Australian supermarket shelves in everyday foods like bread, pasta and breakfast cereals.
While the Australian Government increases trials of GE wheat, multinational chemical companies are gaining control of Australia's wheat industry. In 2010, the Australian Government's gene regulator approved over 1,300 lines of GE wheat for trial in fields across the country. At the same time, Monsanto purchased a 20% stake in one of Australia's largest wheat breeding companies, Intergrain. Monsanto, owner of 90% of the world's GE crops, is in a global joint venture with transnational chemical company BASF to develop GE wheat and other crops.
These companies say that GE is the solution to drought, salinity and the impacts of climate change. But the evidence just does not stack up. At best, GE crops perform as well as normal crops, and in some cases they produce less.
There is a lack of independent, long-term research into the human health and environmental impacts of GE. The evidence we do have from tests on animals links GE with allergic reactions, organ damage and reduced fertility. We also know that GE plants operate differently in the field than they do in the lab, that they are unstable and are likely to have unpredictable impacts on our environment.
Our government relies on the very same companies who develop GE seeds to verify the risks to human health and the environment posed by those crops. That's a bit like relying on cigarette companies to assure us that smoking is safe.
The way forward
Wheat is the world's second largest crop after corn and Australia's most important staple food. Allowing chemical companies to control our food supply is not a reliable way to guarantee future food security or to safeguard against health and environmental risks.
The government has a responsibility to invest in sustainable agricultural solutions to the very real food security risks we face.
Domestic food manufacturers can also help guard against the threat of GE wheat; Kellogg's for example, which makes over 40% of our breakfast cereals.
Rather than investing in uncertain GE crops, Australia needs to strengthen its ecological farming techniques and secure a safe food future.