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CSIRO scraps research program: Blow for organic farmers

23 May, 2007

"The Biological Farmers of Australia is deeply concerned that CSIRO has decided to scrap the work of Dr Maarten Stapper an agronomist within CSIRO Plant Industry...."

"This area of research that is critical not only to the organic sector, but also to the thousands of farmers around Australia right now developing better soil biology - specifically during a time of massive investment in finding sustainable and effective means of sequestering atmospheric carbon," said Scott Kinnear spokesperson for BFA.

Elaine Ingham and Arden Anderson have operated successful farm seminars that thousands of farmers have attended and the work of Maarten Stapper supported the principles put forward in their work.

"For Dr Burdon to say that CSIRO does not consider biological and organic farming to be "a long-term viable strategy" is extraordinary. At no time has CSIRO approached our organisation to discuss their views or to seek input on the technologies and processes undertaken on cutting edge organic farms. The BFA finds this statement akin to IBM's 1950s view of the world market for computers being a total of 5!"

"The rest of the world is getting behind research into organic farming and now looking at the quality characteristics of organic foods compared with conventionally grown foods. In addition most State Governments are actively developing research and development programs to support the growth of the organic sector to supply the demand coming domestically and from export markets in Asia, Nth America and Europe."

"We have for many years been concerned at the commercialisation of research within CSIRO whereby patentable technologies with income generation potential are favoured. This applies to their research into genetically engineered foods which has cost CSIRO many tens of millions of dollars for no commercial food product to show. Remember the failed CSIRO GE field pea that caused an allergic reaction in mice, shelved last year at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

"We believe that the States should look closely at employing Maarten Stapper, who by all accounts was one of the most sought after presenters at field days and seminars because his research was cutting edge and provided real immediate benefits. We are most concerned that CSIRO is prepared to say they see no future in organic farming, yet are prepared to waste extraordinary amounts of money supporting genetic engineering that the general public overall does not want. Demand for organic food is growing at about 15% per year globally and estimates put the market at more than A$50 billion."

"We must remember that European farming has been disastrous for our ancient and fragile soils in Australia and one of the fundamental keys to soil fertility under our unique conditions, which are so different to North America and Europe, is the healthy maintenance of biological activity in the soil. Farmers are aware that healthy soil biology increases carbon which improves structure and capacity to hold water and ultimately leads to an improved soil which will yield more food of higher quality."

"It seems that CSIRO has conveniently ended their one small research program supporting biological and organic farming while at the same time ending the employment of a scientist who was privately critical of genetic engineering. The fact that he was very much admired and supported by the farming community really adds insult to injury with this decision."

"The BFA calls on CSIRO to rethink their decision to drop this research and we will be seeking a face to face meeting with Dr Burdon and the relevant Minister to ask them to explain CSIRO's views."

The BFA is the largest organic organisation in Australia comprising of farmers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, consumers and exporters. Through its subsidiary certification organisations Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and Organic Growers of Australia (OGA) the BFA provides certification services to approximately 75% of the organic sector.

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