Federal government is pushing foreign free-for-all to raid NSW farms and grow genetically engineered crops
A FOREIGN free-for-all to raid NSW farms and grow genetically engineered crops is being pushed by the federal government’s reform agency.
In a radical new report, the Productivity Commission has recommended that foreigners be free to buy farmland worth up to $252m, without regulatory scrutiny.
The federal government cracked down on foreign investment last year, ordering Treasury’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) to probe all purchases over $15m for farmland and $55m for agribusinesses.
The report says NSW lets farmers grow GM cotton and canola, but has a moratorium on other genetically engineered crops.
But the PC’s 581-page draft report on Australian agriculture warns the extra scrutiny could put off foreign buyers and jeopardise jobs.
“The lower thresholds are inimical to the long-term interests of farmers and the broader community,’’ it concludes.
“There is a risk (they) will increase the cost and complexity of investing in Australian agriculture — ultimately deterring foreign direct investment in the sector — without offsetting public benefits.’’
In April, Treasurer Scott Morrison cited “national interests’’ in blocking the $370m sale of Australia’s largest single landholding, the S. Kidman & Co cattle empire, to a Chinese-led consortium.
Field trials are underway interstate for GM bananas, barley, rye-grass, safflower, sugar cane, wheat and white clover.
The PC also wants the federal government to set up a farm animal welfare watchdog — but warns that farmers may need to be cruel to be kind.
“People may perceive a practice to be cruel because they misunderstand the actual welfare outcomes for an animal,’’ the report says.
“People may believe ‘free range eggs’ to always be superior to cage egg production, but neglect the risks posed by predation, feather pecking and cannibalism in some free range systems.
“And most people accept that there can be trade-offs between standards and the costs and practicality of achieving them.’’
Scott Morrison cited “national interests’’ in blocking the $370m sale of Australia’s largest single landholding.
The report notes that farmers have been slow to phase out “mulesing’, the painful ripping of a lamb’s skin from its backside to prevent maggot infestations.
It recommends that a new national agency set standards for animal welfare and monitor live exports of sheep and cattle.
The Coalition scrapped the Labor Party’s plans for a national animal welfare agency when it won power in 2013.
A spokesman for federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce yesterday said the government would only respond to the PC’s final report, due later this year.