There is a clear difference between the views and concerns expressed by consumers over genetically modified crops - and the presence of GM products or additives in the food chain - and the views of the industry.This is obviously a complicated issue with much unknown, made all the more fraught by the relationship between research funding and the interests of the industry involved - and claims and counter-claims.
Personally, I take the view that GM technology is not safe and can not be safely controlled as is evidenced once again today with the discovery of GM contaminated crops in WA - contaminated by imported seed from Canada.
Personally, I take the view that GM is not good for our environment in terms of the issues of sustainability and in terms of the wider risks it poses to the genetic diversity and purity of our agricultural species and our natural ecosystems.
Personally, I take the view that the companies promoting GM crops are using the technology to allow them to take greater control over farmers to ensure greater profits at the expense of farmer's abilities to produce their own seed, do their own breeding and research to meet the needs of their soils and landscapes, their rainfall patterns and farm businesses.
Personally, I take the view that we should be doing all we can in our power to allow consumers to make informed choices about the social and economic and environmental impacts of their purchases.
However - whether you agree with my views on this is not the issue here - the issue is about knowledge and choice.
This is an issue about the right to know.
It is an issue about allowing the public to be informed about what is in their food and how it has been produced to let them decide whether it is really what they want and whether or not they are prepared to pay for it.
It shouldn't be up to industry and its lobbyists to paternalistically decide what they will and won't tell Australians about what is in their food or where it came from.
This is quite simply about TRUTH - about truth in labelling.
All we ask is that producers and distributors tell the truth about what is in their products and where it has come from - so people decide for themselves, so that the market can decide whether they are prepared to buy the (sometimes) cheaper overseas product or to spend a little extra to get something they know is quality - they know is produced in Australia from quality Australian produce.
We want people to be given a real choice, and informed choice, in what they choose to buy or not to buy.
Let the people decide whether they value the quality and sustainability of what they are buying. Let the people decide if they want to buy food and other products that they know have been produced with a concern for our land and our soils and our precious natural and agricultural ecosystems.
Australian consumers deserve to be listened to in this debate. It is important that the Senate hears their demands for truth in labelling.
I quote the Australian Consumer's Association -
"To summarise consumer sentiments, there is a wide community expectation that goods accurately disclose the country of origin or countries of origin of the good or its components. Consecutive surveys have demonstrated consumers' need for accurate country of origin labelling for food. Past surveys have also highlighted the discrepancy between consumer understandings of country of origin representations and that which are supported by the TPA [Trade Practices Act]". [source: Australian Consumers' Association (ACA) submission on proposal P237 Country of Original Labelling of Food, 2001]
Let me now present some recent data from consumers.
The Taylor Nelson Sofres study (in 2002) also showed that 92% of Australians thought that food derived from GE crops (eg oils) should be labelled, and 92% thought that labelling should include highly refined products derived from GE crops. This was reinforced by 61% of Australians saying they would be less likely to buy a product if they knew it came from an animal that had been fed GE feed.
Research undertaken by Taylor Nelson Sofres in 2002 also showed that 68% of Australians would be less likely to eat a food that they knew had been genetically engineered.
This research reinforced a similar Biotechnology Australia survey from 2001, which showed that 73% of Australians consider the use of gene technology in food and drink to be risky an increase from 67% in 1999.
A survey conducted by Choice in 2001 revealed that 85% of respondents indicated that they strongly agree or agree that food labels should name the origin of all imported ingredients.
The Australian Consumer Association believes
" consumers have a right to truth in labelling and a right to determine individual levels of food risk, beyond the extent to which the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) provides under the legislated parameters of 'best available scientific evidence' "
Now I put it to you that for the Government to oppose the need for this type of legislation is extremely hypocritical in light of their commitment to the ideology of the free market, their almost religious reverence for the magic of the marketplace.
What we are asking is that they stick to their conviction, that they stand by their belief in free-market capitalism. That they let Australian consumers have all of the information and make their own choices.
We hear a lot of false patriotism in this chamber.
We see a lot of people standing with their hand on their heart claiming how they love this nation and how they have Australia's best interests at heart.
We hear a lot about how the country rides on the sheep's back, how central the bush is to our identity, how important Australian farmers are to the good of our nation.
How can they stand there with hands on hearts and claim to care about Australia when what is essentially lies and deceit in food packaging are hurting Australian farmers?
What we are asking is that a label that says 'Made in Australia' means exactly that - MADE IN AUSTRALIA
We want to know how much of the content is really of Australian origin - Like Senator Brown said that when we buy a jar of jam and we look for Made in Australia on the label it means that we are buying Australian jam - not that the jar was made in Australia or the label was made in Australia or that it was packaged in Australia.
We want to know exactly how much of the contents of that jar, what percentage of our jam is truly Australian produce.
The Australian Greens again today who are standing up for Australian farmers. It is us and our colleagues who are supporting this bill who really have the interest of our farmers at heart.
Will we see again today what we saw yesterday - in that shocking display that was the selling of Telstra and the gagging and guillotining of debate - that those who claim to stand for the bush with their hands on their hearts are really standing up for the almighty dollar, for the interests of the multinational companies who are prepared to do over Australian farmers just as they do over farmers in developing countries and run their livelihood and their way of life into the ground - all in the name of bigger profits?
I ask you to consider the implications for Australian trade and its impacts on the profitability and well-being of our farmers if we go down the road of dodgy labelling.
I ask you to consider the impacts of stronger labelling laws in the European Union requiring traceability through the food chain.
I ask you to put your minds to what will happen to our trade as these kinds of labelling laws are gradually adopted by our trading partners and we lose our premium labels. We lose our clean and green reputation.
If they can't trust Australian food labelling they won't buy Australian products.
Australia has an incredible market advantage - created by our position as an isolated continent and by our stringent border controls and quarantine measures.
We should make the most of this advantage, we should make the most of the trust that consumers have in Australian produce and move to protect and promote our clean Green Australian brand.
Australian consumers deserve to have the world's best standards.
We are asking for fair trade and for honesty.
We are asking for a fair go for Australian farmers and Australian consumers
We are asking that our food labels contain the truth,
the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth