Australia's biggest arable state is, after a six-year-moratorium, opening the door to its first commercial-scale genetically modified crop, while noting a risk of the technology creating herbicide-resistant weeds.
Western Australia has allowed its farmers to grow GM rapeseed from this year, in effect completing biotech approvals for all the whole of the country's growers of the oilseed.
The other major rapeseed/canola-growing states, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, had already approved biotech varieties.
Western Australia, Australia's biggest grower of the oilseed as well as wheat, cleared Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed after trials on 18 farms found that farmers and marketers could, in handling, keep GM and traditional crops separate.
"The outcomes of this trial programme demonstrate that the grain industry has the ability to maintain segregation
of GM and non-GM canola throughout the supply chain," Western Australia's state farm ministry said.
CBH Group, the Western Australian grain handler involved in the trial, had used so-called strip tests to check for the presence of biotech seed in crop delivered as GM-free, "with results being negative".
"Access to modern technology is important for Western Australia agriculture to help growers improve profitability and maintain international competitiveness," state farm minister Terry Redman said.
Level playing field
The Australian Oilseeds Federation said the move would allow the state's farmers to compete "on an equal footing with much of the canola-producing world".
However, the ministry flagged the importance of farmers following procedures to avoid any threat of weedkiller resistance being spread to surrounding plants.
"Effective stewardship of Roundup Ready varieties is important in minimising the risk of developing glyphosate-tolerant weeds," a report of the crop trials said.
Monsanto imposes smallprint on buyers of its GM seed range that they inform neighbouring farmers, permit official inspections and undertake "weed walks" after glyphosphate sprays to see if resistance is spreading.
GM-free image lost
Opposition agriculture minister Mick Murray, dismissing the approval as "ill-conceived, reckless and unjustified", said: "Western Australia's green, GM-free image has been lost for ever.
"The effects of this decision will be felt for generations to come."
While the state has previously approved GM cotton, the permission only covers the Ord River irrigation area.