If you follow the global story of genetic engineering (GE) you may have noticed an interesting development in the US. A Californian judge has ruled that Monsanto and its licensees, along with the US Department of Agriculture (DA), were in breach of federal law for failure to conduct an appropriate environmental assessment of Roundup Ready sugar beets.
GM beets provide half of the US sugar supply, but the judge deemed the breach so serious that the entire crop had to be ripped from the ground and destroyed.
One of the judge’s primary concerns was that the likelihood of contamination of organic and conventional farms, and the natural environment, had been grossly underestimated.
Furthermore, the consequences of such a contamination would be “irreparable”, said Judge Jeffrey White.
One of the key implications is the willingness of the DA to put corporate wishes before rule of law and the community's interests.
When the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) conducts its assessments in Australia, not only are we being equally let down; we don’t have the protection of a robust federal environmental oversight.
The Gene Technology Act 2000 re-wrote the definition of the environment to exclude any specific mention of people and communities; biodiversity; aesthetic, intrinsic, scientific or economic value.
The definition sets the scope for what will be assessed when considering risks to the environment.
That meant the regulator could ignore its own non-scientific advisory committee when it stated, “a state of unreadiness exists concerning the risks to the environment [from GM canola] . . . so significant that the applications should be declined.”
Our key environmental protection act, which does recognise the broad definition of our environment, can only apply where “matters of national environmental siginificance,” are affected. Unfortunately that means features such as heritage areas and threatened species, not our overall ecological integrity.
Essential aspects of the Australian environment, including rural communities, are threatened because of this kow-towing to the biotech industry – as at least one Australian organic farmer is learning first-hand.