The State government of Western Australia (WA) has given the go-ahead for the commercial production of genetically modified crops from 21 June, with the proviso that if any problems arise, the programme will be suspended for up to five years.

Releasing the governments’ interim policy on GM crops yesterday, agriculture minister Kim Chance has maintained however that he will try and oppose the applications from biotech companies, which he expects to receive from next season. The government’s election campaign had promised a moratorium on GM crops in WA for five years. 

“I have got to find out what legal means I will have to implement the policy that we promised the people,” he said: “My answer would be I don’t want [GM crops].”

Chance also stressed the need for balance between opportunity and prudence, pointing out that biotech companies will only be able to introduce the GM crops under a series of strict national regulations, which will soon be extended to incorporate the planting of such crops. The government has to pass such legislation because currently the guidelines are voluntary and the Federal interim office of the gene regulator has largely inadequate powers to govern GM trials strictly, “it has no means of compelling [biotech companies] to reveal where these trials even are being held,” Chance pointed out.

New laws would provide a much-needed boost to the regulatory system. Locations will have to be publicised and powers will be given to regulators in order to protect human health and the environment.