Australian agriculture minister Warren Truss has called on state and territory governments to end their moratoria on the cultivation of GM crops if they are at all serious about making their jurisdictions investment centres for biotechnology.

Truss said that all the states, and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), had sent delegations to the BIO 2005 conference in Philadelphia in the United States this week,  looking to attract investment in their respective biotechnology sectors.

"How can the states and territories hope to attract any investment while they keep their moratoria on GM crop cultivation in place?" he said.

"You also have to question the credibility of Victoria hosting next year's Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference while maintaining a moratorium on the commercial use of agricultural biotechnology."

Truss said that, since 2003, the Australian Government had invested around A$1.29bn (US$984m) in biotechnology-related R&D.

"But the states' moratoria mean that only the cotton and cut-flower industries can take advantage of the latest developments in GM crop breeding," he said. "The real losers are Australian farmers, who are quickly falling behind their major competitors as they are denied the benefits of new technologies."

"How much longer can Australian farmers match overseas competitors if unscientific state bans on genetically-modified organisms deny them access to higher-yielding, pest and disease resistant, drought-tolerant plant varieties?" he said. "These bans are usually based on claims that being GMO free will deliver marketing advantages for Australian products. How many more years do we have to wait for the so-called 'market advantage' to eventuate?

"Australia must continue to evaluate new GMO varieties in a sound scientific way to help build consumer confidence in the safety and benefits of these products. Agricultural biotechnology in Australia will go no where unless state-imposed bans on GMOs are lifted," he said. "If a particular state government wants a future as a centre for biotechnology, it must do more than offer support for the related research and declare itself a 'bio-hub."

"That government must allow that research to be commercialised and used by Australian farmers," Truss said.