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Tasmanians defend poppy rights

International chemicals giant GlaxoSmithKline, which has trials of opium poppies growing in northern Victoria showing positive results, says there is room for new growers on the Australian mainland.

CATHY WALKER June 24, 2014 3:11am

International chemicals giant GlaxoSmithKline, which has trials of opium poppies growing in northern Victoria showing positive results, says there is room for new growers on the Australian mainland.

Tasmania’s Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff last week urged the Federal Government to impose a five-year moratorium on poppy cropping in other states.

He claimed the push to grow poppies interstate would harm Tasmania’s exclusive $100million industry and the farmers and communities relying on it.

‘‘GSK does not support a moratorium on commercial poppy production in Victoria,’’ GlaxoSmithKline opiates general manager Steve Morris said.

‘‘We see a strong future for the industry, and that includes production in Victoria.’’

Tasmanian growers have 22000ha of poppies in the ground this season, with the potential for more than 30000ha.

Their poppies supply nearly 50 per cent of the world’s requirements for medicinal alkaloid, the opiates derived from poppies for the manufacture of pain relieving medicine.

But Tasmania-based TPI Enterprises is part of the interstate expansion. It plans to plant poppies on Tipperary Station in the Northern Territory within the next couple of months and last week its managing director told ABC radio expanding to the Top End gave them greater flexibility, particularly in a bad year down south.

Mr Morris said trials in three areas of northern and western Victoria were completed and more poppies were being sown this winter in western Victoria.

‘‘Initial trial results were strong — some in terms of yield, others in regards to the quality of the crop,’’ Mr Morris said.

‘‘Naturally there was some variation, and we have analysed this in determining where we will conduct trials later this year.’’

GSK supplies 25 per cent of the world’s medicinal opiate needs from poppies grown by farmers in Tasmania but Victoria already plays a role — the opiates are extracted from the poppies at its factory in Port Fairy.

The company’s Victorian trials began in July last year and this year, in an amendment to the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, the Victorian Parliament voted to allow ‘‘the commercial-scale cultivation of alkaloid poppies in Victoria for therapeutic and research purposes’’.

Mr Rockliff said Tasmania wanted the moratorium to provide time to renegotiate a 1971 Commonwealth and state agreement that governs opium poppy production in Australia.

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