FURORE OVER GM TRIAL SITES
The anti-GM group Network of Concerned Farmers has been concerned that there’s no longer a need to make the sites of GM trials public.
It actually flew across parts of western Victoria this week, and claimed it had found the sites of Bayer’s GM canola trials, then published the pictures on its website.
But the Network was accused of fearmongering by Western Australian consultant Bill Crabtree, who’s not against genetically modified crops.
He described the group’s actions as intimidating, and their policy backward.
"Julie Newman and the Network of Concerned Farmers are making muck and mystery, saying things, just grabbing and clutching at straws; it’s just nonsense.
"They’re just not a rational group and they’re not speaking on behalf of farmers; and I believe that normal people, sensible people, ought to stand up and speak up, and make these people disappear off the face of the earth, because they’re destroying and damaging our industry."
The Victorian Agriculture Minister has warned the Network of Concerned Farmers to be careful about how much information it releases on the issue of trial sites.
Bob Cameron says naming exact locations could lead to activists disrupting legal trials and farming activities.
Bayer CropScience has strongly defended its sites, saying their location has never been a secret, and that they’re the same small-scale research trials the company’s been running for eight years.
Spokeswoman Susie O’Neill says they pose no risk to farming or human health.
"We would maintain that the DPI supervising our activities and the strict conditions would ensure that there is no risk to agricultural trade in Victoria.
"And so, the people, the neighbours, who are required to be informed, certainly are informed; and it’s not a secret; the people who – a large number of farmers from the district and agronomists and farm advisers – do in fact know where the trials are and have actually been to see them."
CHINA CAPS FUEL PRICES:
Rural transport businesses were hammered by another jump in crude oil prices this week, which is likely to translate into higher-priced fuel and an increase in cartage rates.
But if you’re wincing at the thought of paying more than $1.15 for petrol this week, you might like to look overseas to China.
The Chinese Government has capped the price of petrol, to insulate the booming economy from damage.
Sinéad Mangan has the story.
"In the world’s most populous country, even a slight rise in petrol price can mean the difference between an economy that’s thriving or flailing.
"And with the price of oil rising $10 a barrel in four months, ANZ Bank’s Daniel Hynes says the Chinese Government was quick to step-in, by capping the price of petrol for the millions of drives on Beijing streets."
Daniel Hynes: "It’s helping keep a consistent check on the price for their consumers and keeping a check on inflation as well."
"A few years ago, China was a big exporter of oil.
"It now imports three million barrels of oil every day."
PROPERTY PRICES TO ‘EVEN OUT’ – NAB
Australia’s biggest rural lender is predicting property prices will even out over the next 12 months, after the recent boom.
The National Australia Bank’s chief economist Alan Oster, says there’s been a 15 to 20 per cent jump in rural property prices over the past two years, mirroring a trend in city housing.
While the market is expected to flatten, Mr Oster says prices aren’t likely to come back down.
"Where you have the potential for them to go down big time is if you get a combination of increased gearing, big increases in prices, and then farmers or city people having to sell, having to throw their land onto the market to get some cash.
"Now typically what you need for that is a recession; or if you are in rural Australia, you need a large drought, bad commodity prices and stress in the farm.
"Now, at this stage we don’t see that either in rural Australia, or in the cities either."
AD CAMPAIGN TO BAN LIVE EXPORTS
On Wednesday, actors, musicians and authors called for the major political parties to ban the export of livestock.
Names like Hugo Weaving, Daniel Johns and Tim Winton signed an ad funded by welfare activists, Animals Australia, in a major daily newspaper.
Entertainer Tracy Bartram is one of those calling on the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to ban the trade, because she says it’s cruel.
"We want the community to have a think about it, because it’s not just about us, it’s about us trying to offer an alternative and an alternative way of thinking.
"We’ve been sending these animals to the Middle East for 20 years and we know that we haven’t seen any evidence of improvement.
"Some of these countries haven’t even given women rights, so why would they give animals rights – do you know what I am saying?"
The president of the Sheepmeats Council Ian Feldtmann says he’s not fazed by the ad.
He hopes those who’ve signed their names recognise that steps have been taken to improve animal welfare conditions in the Middle East.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I would assume that people would gather information and find out what’s being done in the Middle East by the industry to improve animal welfare; and from that I would assume they then form an opinion."
SHOPPERS RELUCTANT TO PAY FOR WELFARE
A visiting authority on the issue says shoppers may believe in welfare principles, but they may not be prepared to pay more for them.
Dr David Pritchard is the head of animal welfare for the British Government, where a national set of standards has been set up this year, and 100-year-old legislation is being reformed.
Dr Pritchard says the price of meat, not whether it’s been treated well, still dictates consumer choice.
"There is a paradox between the declarations that consumers make about animal welfare and the importance; where perhaps 80 per cent of them will say that they buy on welfare, but because high welfare goods frequently cost more, then when they actually go to the counter to choose what meat or eggs they’re going to buy, they actually choose the budget option."
WARNING FOR FROG AND TOAD HEALTH
A Queensland frog researcher says biological methods to control cane toads could do damage worldwide.
Earlier this year, the CSIRO announced it had successfully isolated a gene, which could be manipulated to prevent toads from maturing to the reproductive stage.
But Deborah Pergolotti from the Cairns Frog Hospital is warning it could damage other species.
"Once this virus is released to the wild in Australia, there is absolutely no way of stopping it from moving overseas; and once it get overseas it will start wiping out toad populations elsewhere, including places where toads are endangered.
"The other aspect of it is that this particular virus that they’ve chosen to use is temperature limited, it does not operate above 34 degrees (Celsius).
"I cannot believe that that much money is being thrown at it, when they’re still going to have to have to come up with other solutions for the Top End."
LOCUSTS OVERRUN NEW SOUTH WALES
Farmers across New South Wales are worried about how quickly locusts are moving, after an explosion in hatchings over the past week.
Locusts have been reported at more than 600 sites, and forecast hot weather over the next few days is expected to make the situation worse.
Northern New South Wales grazier Andy Woods told Warwick Fraser that he’s flat out spraying nine bands of locusts on his property alone.
"Some of the bands have been up to 300 or 400 metres long, and three or four metres wide, and then blow out into big patches of them."
WF: "How quickly are they moving?"
"As they get bigger they’re moving a lot quicker.
"The first couple of weeks they were more or less staying where they’d hatched; and now they’re starting to get a real move one, up to 40 to 50 metres a night, probably.
"We knew it was going to be bad, but I have to admit that it’s been a bit scary."
CALL FOR MORE BUSHFIRE AWARENESS
There’s been a call for a national campaign to educate people about bushfires, ahead of the summer danger period.
A number of states have already experienced bushfires this season, with a dry winter period creating huge fuel loads.
Stuart Ellis chaired a bushfire inquiry for the Council of Australian Governments, COAG, and says many people don’t know basic ways to respond to bushfires.
"The impact is not inevitable: the event is inevitable in one degree or another, but there’s many ways in which we can reduce risk.
"We have education in things such as ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ and ‘Drop, Cover and Roll’, but we don’t have organised education for bushfires.
"History continues to tell us that there are many individuals who are unaware of the correct actions to undertake when faced with a bushfire event."
ROUGH CONDITIONS FOR NORTHERN FISHERY
Operators in the northern prawn fishery are praying for calm seas, after a fall in this year’s tiger prawn catch.
Production has been cut by 20 per cent, due to strong winds, and two full moons in the same month, which have affected tides.
John Palmer, fleet manager with WA Seafoods, says fishermen are catching between 300 and 400 kilograms of tiger prawns a night.
"Oh, it’s just [that] catches fall away on full moons, tides get larger and so be it; and the weather didn’t help us either.
"You probably know, in the Northern Territory it was quite windy for a couple of weeks, a couple of weeks ago: that didn’t help – 15, 20, 30 knot winds.
"Some ducked for cover behind islands, others fish on regardless, but you know if [there are] rougher seas than that, it’s a lot harder to trawl."
FARMER POLL CRITICAL OF NATIONALS
In election news, a new opinion poll of 1,000 farmers shows they’re firmly behind the Coalition in the run-up to next weekend’s election.
The Rural Press poll also flags a concern for the Nationals – more than a third of voters feel the Party doesn’t have an adequate vision for rural and regional Australia.
James Martin has the details.
"Farmers will vote along traditional lines on election day, according to the poll taken over four days last week.
"Along with backing the Coalition as the preferred government, a whopping 90 per cent of farmers preferred John Howard as prime minister, leaving Mark Latham on just 10 per cent.
"Only seven farmers said they would vote for the Greens.
"But worrying for the Government is that 37 per cent of farmers don’t think the Coalition has an adequate vision for rural Australia, and, almost 60 per cent oppose the further sell-off of Telstra.
"Election analyst Malcolm Mackerras says those figures will have the Coalition concerned in key marginal seats, especially Queensland and New South Wales."
Malcolm Mackerras: "I think it shows the Coalition is worried about Queensland and the Labor Party is hopeful about them and that’s why I’m inclined to think for example whereas I once thought the Nationals would win another Senate seat I’m know inclined to think they won’t."