Concerned citizens of Newcastle today did what state and federal governments have failed to do, and “labelled” a cargo of genetically engineered food being unloaded in Newcastle harbour.
Greens Councillor Ian McKenzie said today that the cargo ship, the Ocean Emperor – carrying the first import into Australia of genetically engineered corn from the United States – was last night “labelled” with the slogan “No GMO!”.
He said that the action to paint the slogan on the ship was undertaken to expose the inadequacy of Australian governments in relation to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).
“It should be the responsibility of our Federal (Coalition) and State (Labor) governments to introduce legislation requiring consumers to be informed (through labelling) that the products produced from this material have been derived from chickens fed on genetically engineered material.
“However, unlike their European counterparts, and despite overwhelming community support for mandatory labelling, Australian governments have refused to require labelling of such products. Where governments fail in their primary duty to protect citizens and the environment, citizens must act themselves”.
Cr McKenzie also questioned government assurances about the rigour of the materials-handling operation.
“We’ve been asked to believe that the operation ensures that the imported materials will be entirely sealed and processed into meal, and will not be able to contaminate the Australian environment.
“But our own observations raise serious questions about the integrity of these assurances and the rigour of government monitoring and regulation.
“Even from a distance, I and others have observed the grain being handled with open facilities and machinery (including hoppers and cranes), with grain dust freely issuing from the site. Flocks of pigeons are eating the exposed grain, and local commercial fishers say that the area attracts bream, hare-tail and mulloway to feed on grain spilt into the water.
“Is the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) really supervising the unloading process? What faith can we have in any assurances that this is so?”
Cr McKenzie said that Australians had not been told the specific type of genetic modification used to produce this corn, “We’re also told that the entire process is transparent and accountable, but a representative of the company importing the materials yesterday refused to answer media questions about who would be buying the grain, and how much it would cost, raising questions not just about potential health and environmental effects, but about the impact of highly subsidised US products on the Australian economy and our agricultural industry.
“Why has this cloak of secrecy been thrown over this first importation of genetically engineered corn? Why do our governments seem more interested in protecting the interests of the United States and multi-national agri-business corporations than in standing up for our own citizens?