Australia: Murray blasts Redman on GM contamination
Farm Weekly (Australia)
23 Dec, 2010 09:41 AM
SHADOW Minister for Agriculture Mick Murray has called for current Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman to allow WA shires to declare themselves Genetically Modified (GM) crop-free after Kojonup organic farmer Stephen Marsh lost his organic certification due to contamination.
Mr Murray said Mr Redman had broken his promise that there would be no contamination of non-GM crops by nearby GM farms.
Recent Trait RUR strip tests carried out by Mr Marsh led him to believe nearly two thirds of his non-GM farm (293ha covering six paddocks) in Kojonup was contaminated after a neighbour's GM canola blew onto the property.
Mr Murray said the financial impacts of the contamination could be devastating and it was only a matter of time before more non-GM crop farmers would be forced to pay for the Barnett Government's reckless stance on GM crops.
He also voiced his concern that there would be the potential for huge social ramifications for regional towns and communities if litigation between neighbours broke out over contamination.
"Establishing the Agriculture and Food Department's online geographic information system is nowhere near enough to stop contamination," Mr Murray said.
"No preventative measures can prevent contamination of non-GM crops and that is why 27,000 Western Australians signed a petition against the Barnett Government's plan.
"The first year of the Barnett Government's GM crop trials has been a shambles and the Minister must immediately reveal his plan for stopping any further contamination of non-GM crops."
Greenpeace GM campaigner, Laura Kelly, said Freedom Of Information (FOI) evidence obtained by Greenpeace showed that Mr Redman had completely abandoned the property rights of WA farmers and failed in the most basic duty of care.
"Now these FOI results show his government isn't fulfilling its legal requirement to test food for GM contamination and ensure it is correctly labelled under Australian food standards," she said.
"This amounts to a big green light to multinational chemical companies like Monsanto to contaminate WA farms, because there will be no legal or financial repercussions in the field or at the check-out, regardless of the costs this creates for our farmers and Australian consumers.
"Because of Mr Redman's leadership failure, farmers have lost their non-GM market premium, WA consumers have lost their fundamental right to know if they are eating GM and foreign chemical companies increase their control of WA's food supply."
Kojonup farmer Stephen Marsh now faces the financial and time-consuming burden of eradicating all traces of GM canola from next year's crop and quarantining his stock to be deemed an organic farm again.
Mr Marsh said he was still coming to terms with how the huge loss would affect his family business.
"We're losing a large part of our livelihood and it's just put us back on our plans for the future," he said.
"The issue needed to be sorted out before something like this happened.
"People need to decide the future of this technology and not the seed companies or the government."
Mr Marsh and his family were awaiting official test results from the Agriculture and Food Department while an investigation carried out by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) is still ongoing.
The Marsh's continue to work hard to follow through with the four major compliance issues which they have to abide by.
"Now that our organic oat crops and wheat will be downgraded to conventional crop status it's very clear to us that Monsanto can't control its technology," Mr Marsh said.
Monsanto spokesperson Keryn McLean said modern tillage practices and current seasonal conditions meant all canola seed could remain viable for a number of years.
"GM crops make up a high proportion of farming in North America and South America and this hasn't stopped the co-existence of organic production and GM cropping there," she said.
"Australian organic certifying bodies are not applying realistic tolerances to accommodate the normal occurrences in farming practices and are, in effect, harming their own members."
Mr Murray said although Mr Marsh's farm was one of the first properties to become contaminated in WA, it was unlikely to be the last.
"Mr Redman's GM canola experiment was destined to be a disaster," he said.
"It's less than a year since the Barnett Government made the decision to allow GM canola crops to be grown in WA but already a farmer is suffering because of contamination."
Mr Redman said he might have to reassess some standards that had been set for GM farming so that all farmers in WA could co-exist.
Speaking at the Katanning saleyards recently he said overall this year's GM crops were successful, in spite of the challenging season.
In regards to Mr Marsh's organic de-certification, Mr Redman said while he hadn't received official confirmation, if that was the case then it was a concern.
He said co-existence had been a part of farming systems for many years and would continue to be but he was prepared to review the GM buffer zones if necessary.
"But I would rather that be done on a national level, as the current zones were set by industry nationally," Mr Redman said.
"We want to work with industry to get a good outcome."
Mr Redman said he was planning an audit of GM properties after harvest to see if rules needed to be tightened.
"There may be some scope to look at some of the standards in terms of how we manage buffer zones," he said.
"Right now the standards we set in WA are commensurate with those in the Eastern States and the rest of the world.
"If we are going to roll out changes to that, it probably has to be on a national scale."
Head of the Organic Federation of Australia, Andre Leu, said he was looking into the legal ramifications of possible GM contaminations.
Mr Marsh won't rule out legal action and said it was a matter of waiting for the results of official tests.