Australia approves Monsanto's GM canola

Sparking criticisms, the Australian government's gene technology
regulator has given the green light for the commercial use of a
genetically modified canola from Monsanto - the second approval for
GM canola made by the country in the past few months.

Australia's regulator Dr Sue Meek said that she had decided to issue a licence for the commercial release of Monsanto Australia's Roundup Ready canola (GT73) 'finding there were no environmental or health reasons to prevent the commercial release' of the product, altered to make it resistant to the most commonly used broadacre herbicide, glyphosate. A herbicide also produced by Monsanto .

In giving the green light, Australia joins the US, Japan and Canada who already commercially grow the product, in some cases since 1995.

Monsanto's GT73 is produced for human food (oil) and livestock feed consumption and has been approved for food products since 1997 in Europe, although it can not be grown.

Elsewhere in the world, Japan gave approval for its use in food products in 1996, Canada in 1994, the US in 1995 and Australia in 2000.

Argentine or oilseed rape (Brassica napus)​ is grown as a commercial crop in 50 countries, with a combined harvest of over 40 million metric tonnes. The major producers of rapeseed in 2000 were China, Canada, India, Germany, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Canola is a genetic variation of B. napus​ with low levels of the natural rapeseed toxins glucosinolate and erucic acid, developed through conventional plant breeding. Canola is grown for its seed, which represents a major source of edible vegetable oil and is also used in livestock feeds.

The major food use of canola in North America and Europe is as a refined oil. Typically, canola oil is used by itself as a salad oil or cooking oil, or blended with other vegetable oils in the manufacture of margarine, shortenings, cooking and salad oils. Canola meal, a byproduct of the oil production process, is added to livestock feed rations.

But the anti-GM farmers body, the Network of Concerned Farmers, criticised Dr Meek's decision at the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), arguing that it failed to take into account the economic harm Australia might face because of the GM canola.

Network spokeswoman Julie Newman has called for an immediate parliamentary inquiry and a review of Dr Meek's decision.

"Our regulatory process has become little more than an expensive illusion to deflect product liability from the GM industry to the farmers and the public. We demand accountability,"​ said Newman.

Certain state governments, such as Victoria until May 2004, have plumped to ban the commercial production of genetically modified canola, which means that the introduction of Monsanto's product will certainly be gradual.

Under new European legislation, from April 2004 all GM-derived oils - irrespective of whether the GM material is still present- will have to be labelled as containing an ingredient derived from a GM source. Under current legislation in Europe this is not necessary - only if a food manufacturer knowingly uses the new DNA.

This week the US biotech giant Monsanto posted a first quarter net loss of US$97m, or 37 cents a share, to 30 November, compared to a net loss of $18m, or 7 cents a share, a year earlier.

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