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"Monsanto spends the same amount
of money on research and development
in three weeks as the Australian Grain
Industry spends on research and develop-
ment in 12 months. So if we're going to
get any productive gains out of agriculture
we're going to have to have private
investors in it."
One of Bob Phelps' concerns is the
increase in patents and plant breeder's
rights on seeds. Two or so years ago, the
US Government initiated an investigation
into anticompetitive practices by biotech
companies after claims by farmers that
they were no longer able to get access to
traditional varieties of seed. Since humans
first became agriculturalists rather than
hunter gatherers, the best seed has been
saved and developed to improve the
crops. But now, he says, large corporations
are taking what has been developed in the
public domain for thousands of years, and
brought it, through intellectual property
ownership, patents and plant breeder's
rights, under private control. Under the
Breeder's Rights Act introduced in 1987,
a farmer is not allowed to propagate or
resell seed that is protected.
Andrew Broad admits that all the
varieties of crops he grows on his farm
have an end point royalty. "If I grow a
tonne of wheat I pay one dollar back to the
breeder. I can grow varieties which don't
have an end royalty, but they simply don't
Ultimately, the future of our food and
the farming methods used to produce it, lie
in the hands of the consumers.
"The community is asking of the
farming sector greater and greater prod-
uction at cheaper and cheaper prices,"
says Broad. A generation ago, his 2,000
hectare farm was made up of five family
farms. Small family farms, which were
owned by people who wanted to look after
the environment and leave the land in a
better state for the next generation, are
being squeezed out of existence, he
explains, either becoming far larger family
farms, or owned by corporations.
He believes the vast majority of
consumers are only buying on price and
are not prepared to pay one cent more
for something that has been produced
with better environmental concerns and
"Look at the supermarket price war.
Why does the Australian consumer have
some God-given right to have cheap
food? They have a God-given right to have
healthy, wholesome food at a price that
they can afford to feed their family, but
they can't have it every way."
How we spend our food dollars sends
a message to the food supply about what
we want, Bob Phelps emphasises. He
stresses buying organic when possible.
"Organic food costs a bit more, but
is produced more thoughtfully and its
whole raison d'etre is to protect the health
of people and the environment."
Every time we go shopping for food
we make a choice and it's vitally important
that we make choices that support not
only our own health and wellbeing, but
also our land and environment. In the UK
and Europe generally, GM foods are not
seen on supermarket shelves because of
consumer rejection. If we don't want GM
bread on our shelves in three years' time,
we need write to our politicians and tell
For the last seven years, Greenpeace
has produced the True Food Guide which
lists products known to be GM free, and
those which could contain GM. They
have also started producing the True
Food Guide for Kids www.truefood.org.
au. By reading food labels, we can make
a conscious effort to avoid GM foods,
such as soy and corn, which are already
on the market in Australia.
"Organic food costs a bit
more, but is produced more
thoughtfully and its whole
raison d'etre is to protect the
health of people and the
environment." -- Bob Phelps
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