Moratorium a “precautionary principle”: visiting expert

Aug 13, 2019

South Australian farmers have been missing out on the opportunity to use globally-recognised technology in the form of genetically modified crops because of the state’s GM moratorium, according to a visiting expert who will speak at the GROWING SA Conference later this month.

Professor Kevin Folta from the University of Florida will be one of the keynote speakers at the conference, hosted by Grain Producers SA and Livestock SA on 27-28 August at the Adelaide Hills Convention Centre, Hahndorf.

Prof Folta is a plant geneticist and renowned science communicator who will provide an international perspective on the future of biotechnology and agricultural chemical use at GROWING SA thanks to CropLife Australia.

It comes at a time when the State Government is considering the findings of an independent review into SA’s moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified food crops, led by Emeritus Professor Kym Anderson.

Prof Folta said a moratorium was the reflection of the “precautionary principle”.

“Rather than advancing technology because it has been validated and vetted, technology was shelved based on the perception of risk by those unclear about the technology,” he said. 

“When SA’s moratorium was enacted, today's gene editing technologies did not exist, so they banned technology not based on science, but because it is technology. 

“It is insane to restrict any technology for decades. It puts SA decades behind dozens of other countries and the rest of Australia.”

Prof Folta’s laboratory has three focus areas: how light can regulate plant traits in indoor farms; the invention of new molecules from random DNA sequences which could lead to new developments in antibiotics and herbicides; and the use of genomic tools to improve the flavours of strawberry.

He hosts the Talking Biotech podcast, which aims to help connect the public to current science and technology and let scientists tell the stories of how science can help farmers, industrialised world consumers, the environment and the developing world. 

Prof Folta said any ban on technology in the industrialised world has wide implications.

“Governments in the developing world are wrestling with their own regulatory decisions and when industrialised governments reject technology, it raises suspicion elsewhere,” he said.

“It affects policy. Solutions in the developing world have been devised to address specific issues such as vitamin A deficiency and disease resistance in food staples.

“These are desperately needed and currently exist, but are not deployed. When the industrialised world rejects technology, people without the luxury of first-world precaution suffer.”

Prof Folta is a strong advocate for the safety of glyphosate.

“I've studied the literature on this compound for decades. It is a miracle compound, described as a once-in-a-century chemical,” he said. 

“I know how it works, I've read every safety evaluation by the dozens of regulatory agencies, universities, and governments worldwide.

“It is mindboggling that evidence has been abandoned and that scientific decisions are being made by juries of lay people rather than scientists.”

GPSA chief executive Caroline Rhodes said she was excited to be hosting Prof Folta at GROWING SA.

“One of the greatest risks to agriculture is the potential for increased regulation around key tools which enable farmers to be productive and profitable,” she said.

“We are bringing international experts to challenge thinking and share international expertise for the benefit of members.

“GPSA is proud to partner with Livestock SA to host GROWING SA and give members the opportunity to engage with other producers, industry service providers and stakeholders, politicians and policy- in a two-way dialogue regarding policy issues and network at a once-a-year event.”

Register for GROWING SA on the Conference website

Media enquiries: Alistair Lawson, AgCommunicators, 0448 400 606

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