50 kilometres south east of Melbourne, a local bee keeper is concerned that genetically modified crops could affect his honey production. “I believe that at this stage we know very little about these products,” said Chris, who lives three miles from a property that is growing GM canola. He worries about the effects of GM crops on both the bees and the humans living in his local area.
On Monday 2nd November 2009, a group of concerned Berwick residents gathered outside ‘Minta’, a property belonging to the Baillieus, the family of State Opposition leader, Ted Baillieu. Politics aside, it is the genetically modified canola crop that is being grown on the property which concerns this group of organic farmers, wholesalers, beekeepers and mothers. Darren, who owns the local organic food store, points out the bright, yellow crop that is growing just over the fence. “That whole paddock is canola - it has just finished flowering,” he says.
In 1890, Berwick had a small population of around 6oo people and was known for its cultivation of oats, peas, beans and potatoes. In 2009, this home of the displaced Bunurong people is a thriving suburb. Bob Phelps, from the GM free campaign group, Gene Ethics, said that the crop is adjacent to housing estates where local residents seem unaware of the potential for their gardens to be contaminated by GM canola. “The local councils and the gardeners of this area should not be having GM canola and its contamination imposed on them,” said Phelps.
Canola is used in many foods and in animal feed, and in 2008 the first GM crop was harvested in Victoria. Member of state parliament Tammy Lobato, whose electorate includes Berwick, attended the meeting and told the crowd that we are all being force-fed GM food for there is no labeling of GM products. The risk to human health is of concern to Crop Watch’s Jessica Harrison. “There is an increase in allergies and we are concerned that GM is involved in this,” she said. “There have been no proper studies done, and yet it is in our food right now.”
The canola growing on the Berwick property has tested positive for GM by Crop Watch, a group who are affiliated with the Network of Concerned Farmers, an anti-genetically modified food group. Jessica Harrison from Crop Watch says that the GM pollen will spread to the neighbouring properties. “You can’t put a fence around nature.” “Bees will go into that GM canola crop over there, and the seeds will spread all around the area.”
Greens candidate for the eastern Victorian region, Samantha Dunn, fears that the risk to the economy is huge. She says that the state has lost its clean, green marketing edge by allowing GM into agriculture in Victoria. “We haven’t done any real studies or any real testing, and yet we continue to do this, leaving a mess that future generations will have to contend with for a very long time,” says Dunn.
The director of Gene Ethics, Bob Phelps, says that local councils need to declare themselves GM free. “Already the shires of Yarra Ranges, East Gippsland, Bass Coast and South Gippsland are GM free. Casey and Cardinia need to be GM free also,” said Phelps.