Thousands of Black Angus bulls snort steam gently into the early morning air at Tasmania’s largest cattle feed lot as they jostle for space at a trough.
They are being fattened up for the Japanese market where marbled Angus beef is in high demand. The bulls fetch higher prices, thanks to Tasmania’s status as the only Australian state that bans genetically modified food crops and animal feed. That moratorium has made Tasmania – an island separated from Australia’s mainland by 150 miles of water – a model of high-end, value-added agriculture. Tasmania’s isolation and wilderness once made it a dumping ground for the British Empire’s convicts. But these same qualities, and a population of just over half a million, make the island one of the cleanest places on earth.
Now, the environment is under threat. Tasmania’s powerful poppy industry, the world’s largest supplier of pharmaceutical grade opiates for painkillers, is lobbying for the moratorium on genetically modified organisms to be lifted.
The road Tasmania chooses will be critical as Australia seeks to become a “food bowl” for a rapidly growing middle-class in Asia. Already the world’s third largest exporter of beef, Australia is eyeing agriculture as a key economic driver as a decade-long mining investment boom wanes.