Saturday, February 19, 2011

GM crops infecting organic farms

In December last year, Kojonup organic grain farmer Steve Marsh found Genetically Modified (GM) canola plants from a neighbouring farm had contaminated 293 hectares — 63% — of his property.

The farm in Western Australia’s Great Southern region is Australia’s first known case of GM canola contamination, and Marsh has had his organic certification revoked as a result.

The Monsanto Round-Up Ready Canola was being grown on a neighbouring farm after a moratorium on growing GM crops was lifted a year ago by the WA Liberal government.

Marsh found that the GM canola had blown over a 1.5 kilometre swathe of his property, well beyond the flimsy 5 metre “exclusion zone” stipulated for GM crops under WA guidelines.

Marsh has launched legal action for the damage caused by the contamination, which has lost him the premium price for his crops.

Organic wheat can sell for up to $500 to $800 more per tonne than regular wheat, and the fact that GM seeds can remain viable for several years means that more than half his farm has now been rendered useless.

Marsh told AAP in December: "I am prepared to defend my livelihood and my choice, and the choice of many other non-GM farmers to produce a non-GM product."

"Our debate here is all about co-existence, we were told that the GM industry could co-exist with the non-GM industry,” said Marsh. "Co-existence is not when you have a technology imposed on you, whether you want it or not."

Monsanto has announced that it will support the legal defence of the neighbouring GM farm.

The WA agriculture department has since confirmed the contamination, but the government has refused to help Marsh.

Instead, WA agriculture minister Terry Redman called on the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), Australia's organic certification body, to change its current
zero-tolerance stance towards GM in organic crops and allow 0.9 percent contamination.

Redman attacked NASAA’s organic standards for not allowing GM contamination, and said that zero tolerance for GM in organic crops is "unrealistic".

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps has urged the state government to introduce new laws to protect organic farmers instead of tweaking GM thresholds, calling for automatic compensation for any farm contaminated with GM.

Greenpeace campaigner Laura Kelly also blamed the WA government for failing to protect farmers from GM contamination.

“This is a big green light to multinational chemical companies like Monsanto to contaminate WA farms, because there will be no legal or financial repercussion,” she said.

“WA consumers have lost their fundamental right to know if they are eating GE and foreign chemical companies will increase their control of WA’s food supply.”

Greenpeace also announced that a recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that the WA government is failing its obligation under Austalian food standards to test for compliance with GM labelling laws.

No tests of for GM in food have been conducted in WA in the past five years.

Late last year, the Federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved a four-year trial of Monsanto's newest GM canola strain in NSW, Victoria and WA, beginning this March.

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