Outspoken state Labor MP Tammy Lobato has questioned the independence of Victoria’s chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, branding as “seriously compromised” his government-appointed panel that recommended the lifting of a ban on genetically modified crops.
The Government last week accepted the panel’s recommendation to remove the four-year ban on growing GM canola, despite facing a backlash from within Labor caucus.
Last week, Ms Lobato launched a scathing attack on Premier John Brumby, accusing him of ignorance and comparing the effects of GM crops to those of asbestos and thalidomide.
Now she has accused Sir Gus of having set ideas on GM crops before the review into the economic impact of lifting the ban.
“In 2002, Gus Nossal saw the issue of adoption of GM as merely a public relations battle that had to be won. His stance was so entrenched that (multi-national company) Monsanto used his statements in their own marketing,” she said.
In an ABC radio interview last year, Sir Gus said the ban on GM crops was “crass populism” and bad policy and politics.
He has rejected Ms Lobato’s claims, telling The Age his views on GM technology were raised with former premier Steve Bracks, who appointed him. Sir Gus said he told Mr Bracks he was an “unashamed proponent” of genetic research for the potential it had to improve crops.
“However, the terms of reference had nothing to do with the health aspect of GM canola or the environmental safety,” Sir Gus said. “It purely had to do with asking the question whether lifting the moratorium at the end of four years would help, or not help, trade and economic issues. And I had a completely open mind on that matter.”
Mr Brumby last week defended Sir Gus’ independence.
“Sir Gus, former Australian of the year because of his contribution to science, looks objectively at those things and he makes an objective judgement,” he said.
Cabinet’s decision to remove the ban on GM canola means the crop can be grown from March next year.
Ms Lobato and four other Labor MPs – Martin Foley, Christine Campbell, Jenny Mikakos and Carlo Carli – wrote submissions to Sir Gus’ review panel calling for the ban to be maintained.
Ms Lobato said Victorian exports to Europe would come under threat if the state adopted GM crops, because the European Union remained sceptical about the crops.
“With GM . . . we would be releasing something into the environment which can never be recalled,” she said.
But the review panel found removing the ban would not affect Australian canola exports and said the responsibility for assessing the health and environmental impact of GM crops rested with the Commonwealth Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
The review noted the regulator had approved two forms of GM canola in 2003, finding they posed “no greater risk to human health or the environment than did conventionally bred canola”.