Australian state says GM crops are pests

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The Independent Online

Genetically modified crops will today suffer a new indignity. They are to be officially classified as pest species.

Genetically modified crops will today suffer a new indignity. They are to be officially classified as pest species.

The classification, by the government of the Australian state of Tasmania, is another blow to the GM industry world-wide. It will blow a hole in the pro-GM policy of the Australian government which has been perhaps the US administration's closest ally in pushing the technology.

It is also likely to provoke a constitutional crisis in Australia. The federal government is threatening to take legal action against the state for exceeding its powers but Tasmania claims that other states will follow its lead as local resistance to the central government's policy grows in the face of popular revolt.

Genetically modified cotton and carnations are already grown in Australia and the central government has introduced legislation which will enable GM foods to be grown as well. The bill would set up a gene technology regulator who would be able to give permission for planting and trials.

But Tasmania, traditionally an independent-minded and environmentally conscious state, has now put this strategy at risk. In public notices issued this weekend it has classified GM crops as forbidden "pests" under its quarantine laws, thus prohibiting them being brought into the state or grown there.

It has also imposed a one-year moratorium on trials of the crops, unless grown under pollen-proofed covers that will prevent the gene spreading, the first such ban yet to be announced in Australia.

David Llewellyn, the state's primary industries minister, said: "We need to be certain that genetically modified organisms won't pose a risk to our health or our environment or our agriculture."

An inquiry by the state's food industry council is expected to rule against the crops next month.

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