Government says GM foods “needed”

Australia should accept that genetically modified (GM) crops will be crucial in addressing the world food crisis, federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said.

State governments have imposed bans on most food crops, with the exception of canola in NSW and Victoria.

Scientists and environmentalists are concerned GM crops are difficult to contain and long-term health effects are unknown.

Burke, addressing an agriculture science conference in Canberra, said GM food crops would be necessary to address global food shortages.

“I don’t believe we should be turning our back on any part of science, including what I believe is an inevitable situation over time, that there will be growing acceptance of genetically modified crops,” Burke said.

“This is not a time where I believe the world will avoid the inevitable, and that is that genetically modified crops will find themselves as one piece of the jigsaw in meeting the challenges of food production.”

Burke said climate change and growing input costs for producers had led to the demand for food outstripping supply.

He said the food crisis was global and all governments have a responsibility to come up with new ways to tackle the issue.

“All of these issues come together in one simple concept, around the world it is becoming harder for families to feed themselves,” he said.

“It comes down to families around the table, either in wealthy nations where the shopping bill is higher than it used to be, or families in poorer nations sitting around a table where there is just not enough food to adequately feed the people sitting around it.

“The nature of this being a global crisis means new policy responses.”

Burke said biofuels had resulted in a reduction of staple crops being harvested for food, but it alone could not be blamed for the food crisis.

“The public commentary on world food shortage has disproportionately looked to focus on biofuels as though biofuels are the be all and the end all of the problem.

“It would be a mistake for anyone to think that a reversal of those biofuels policies will get us out of the challenge that we face with global food shortages, they won’t.”

Burke said as oil prices continue to rise markets would be looking towards biofuels.

“That means we have the responsibility to try to drive research and development in biofuels away from initial staple food crops.”

Burke made the comments during his address to the ATSE Crawford Fund conference in Canberra.

The annual conference brings together lead scientists, economists, policymakers and politicians to discuss the agriculture sector in Australia and abroad.

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