Australia: Dairy processors reject GM pastures

Australia’s dairy processors say more needs to be done before they can support the use of genetically modified (GM) pastures on farm.

The use of GM pastures was too big a threat to markets both domestically and internationally to be acceptable at this time, Australian Dairy Products Federation executive director Dr Peter Stahle told this week’s United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) conference.

Australian researchers at the Dairy Futures Cooperative Research Centre are developing a GM high-energy ryegrass, which could increase milk production by 10-15 per cent per hectare and which is getting close to commercial trial stage.

The UDV has held a number of forums this year to discuss GM ryegrass and the potential pathways going forward.

“We need to make sure we lead the debate … so we can access technology that will be beneficial to us,” UDV president Adam Jenkins told the conference.

But Dr Stahle said consumer concerns about GM meant there was potential for a negative reaction.

“This creates a business environment where the companies have a deep concern for market risk if and when industry engages with these technologies,” he said.

Companies were also concerned Australia’s competitors, particularly New Zealand, could use being non-GM free to their advantage if Australia adopted the technology.

“Particularly in regard to trade, it provides an opportunity for non-tariff barriers to be created against our products,” Dr Stahle said.

Processors supported the application of non-GM research to improve the productivity of pasture species, he said.

Australian Dairy Farmers president Noel Campbell said processors were being cautious, but realistic, about GM technology.

The industry did not want to risk dairy’s position with consumers.

“They (the processors) are in the best position to decide that because we (farmers) are not at the coalface with supermarkets or the consumer; they are,” he said.

Farmers needed to work with processors to gain acceptance by consumers of technologies such as this that could help farmers be world competitive.

Consumers were not concerned about the farmer’s cost of production.

“It is more about whether they believe their food is safe etc, so we have got to provide the information that’s going to allow them to make a decision that this is no hindrance to their health and that it’s better for the environment, if it means we use less water, fertiliser, pesticide,” Mr Campbell said.

“We’ve got to show more of those things that are seen as benefits to them, not just benefits to us.”

Dr Stahle said coexistence and segregation were major challenges for dairy’s use of GM technology.

“Dairy like many other commodities relies on bulk aggregation of products collected from many farm suppliers by a limited number of processing manufacturers,” he said.

“These two technologies have the potential to personalise the gain but socialise the risk.”

Carlene Dowie, The Australian Dairy Producer, May 1 2015

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