Onkaparinga calls for Minister Basham to review GM crop decision

Published on 09 November 2020

The City of Onkaparinga has called on Primary Industries Minister David Basham to review his recent decision not to designate the McLaren Vale wine as GM free.

The council has also asked for detailed minutes of the recent GM Advisory Committee meeting where the matter was discussed.

“It needs to be made clear – the minister hasn’t said no to councils, he’s said no to the hardworking, successful winemakers and grape growers of our world-class wine region, who know their business and markets better than anyone,” Onkaparinga Mayor Erin Thompson said.

“Councils were simply tasked with gathering industry evidence, which we did, exactly as prescribed.

“This is a lost opportunity to use the legislation to its best effect, and a failure to recognise that McLaren Vale has unique attributes that deserve protection,” she said.

Mayor Thompson also expressed surprise that, following the deadline for making an application, correspondence and media statements from Minster Basham mentioned ‘segregation protocols’ and ‘thresholds’, even though these were not included in section 5A of the Act, nor in any advice from PIRSA or the minister’s office prior to this date.

The council also refuted the assertion that no rigorous evidence-based arguments were provided regarding potential changes in costs for non-GM businesses if the region was not designated GM free.

“Our application provided direct and tangible evidence from four wineries in McLaren Vale, including trade testimonies from importers citing the necessity for GM-free produce in order for trade to continue occurring,” Mayor Thompson said.

“The immediate risk is $5.1 million per annum in existing export markets.

“Further, our application expressly points to feedback received from our wine industry that lifting the moratorium will result in a ‘reverse onus of proof’.

“This means that grape growers and wine producers who are Certified Organic or Biodynamic and who have not previously needed to prove their produce is free from GM material, will now be forced to do so, at great cost and inconvenience,” Mayor Thompson said.

Correspondence from the Advisory Committee also stated that no data was provided in any application regarding additional costs that would result from the segregation of GM and non-GM crops or in relation to organic certification if GM food crops were to be permitted.

“Even if segregation protocols were applied, our wine producers’ hard-won reputation as sustainability leaders and deep investment in Organic/Biodynamic Certification would be protected by a non-GM food crop designation, and is now at risk,” Mayor Thompson said.

“This risk is entirely disproportionate to the potential gain of grain growers who could access GM technology (wheat and canola, accounting for 0.23% and 0.0% of our City’s primary production),” she said.

The council has requested that the GM Advisory Committee provides to the City of Onkaparinga:

  • any minutes from the Advisory Group relating to its decision-making process regarding the City of Onkaparinga’s application;
  • the criteria against which the GM Advisory Committee assessed the council’s application;
  • details of the ‘threshold’ mentioned by the minister, including what parameters make up this threshold and how it was set;
  • the timeframe and basis for when both the threshold and segregation protocols were introduced into the decision-making process;
  • a copy of any guidelines the GM Advisory Committee used to assess and make decisions about the applications;
  • information regarding the expertise and experience of the Advisory Committee in the trade and marketing of the wine industry.

“This is not an argument of science or price premiums,” Mayor Thompson said.

“This is about trade and marketing impacts our industry knows will come from the perception – held in in many international markets – that GM produce compromises the attributes that make our McLaren Vale products so appealing,” Mayor Thompson said.