Australian organic farmer in first GM contamination lawsuit

October 2011
Canoloa Fields - Wollogorang NSW
Canola field in Australia
Picture by sachman75 on Flickr
Australia is lagging many years behind America in the GM game, but its government is trying hard to play catch up.

With polls showing a majority of Australians are 'uncomfortable' with GM plants and more so with GM animals, the government seems to be resorting to spin and subterfuge.

In 2010, the Western Australia (WA) agricultural minister, Terry Redman, ended his state's ban on the growing of GM canola. At the time, he declared confidently that the crop could be controlled, and quoted scientific trials which “proved GM and non-GM canola can be segregated and marketed separately. The report on the trials indicated there were 11 minor events (on 18 sites) and all were managed appropriately and segregation from paddock to port was achieved”

Until GM made its entrance, 95% of WA canola was exported to Europe for the biofuel market. According to the EU's Renewal Energy Directive (RED), canola supplied to the biofuel industry must be produced sustainably. GM canola does not meet the RED 'sustainable' criteria. Despite this all-too-obvious hurdle, Redman claimed that the introduction of GM canola would have no impacts on markets. His Department (the Department of Agriculture and Food of Western Australia, DAFWA) explained that the 2010 GM canola harvest had been sold to Pakistan.

The 'science' may have shown GM could be segregated 'from paddock to port', but no one seems to have told the biotech canola that. Only one year after its introduction into WA, genetic pollution is already a reality, and the first lawsuit brought by an organic farmer against his neighbour for GM contamination has already started.

Australia has no liability laws binding owners or licensees of GM crops for any damage their crops cause. The organic farmer is a wheat and barley grower and has found 60% of his land contaminated by GM canola. He has lost his organic certification, and his premium grain market, possibly for the next 10 years. The GM grower is supremely indifferent to the suit: he is backed by Monsanto and the Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association, (see note below) and has replanted GM canola this year.

Government reaction to the contamination is telling.

Redman has changed his tune to “... zero per cent thresholds (of GM in organics) are unrealistic in biological systems”. There's a clear determination to force the organic sector to accept gene contamination, ignore the agreed domestic organic standard, ignore public opinion, and ignore the supply chain. It has also emerged that the Australian government is spending $9 million of taxpayers money to develop GM crops, and has sold a 19.9% stake of the state-owned InterGrain Company to Monsanto.

In June, Redman seems to have contradicted his own department by admitting in Parliament that none of the 2010 canola had been sold. Since farmers depend on the DAFWA for reliable information, serious questions are raised regarding the apparently fictional Pakistan market.

By September, the 2010 GM canola sales had reached “a significant proportion” of the year's crop. However, WA's grain handlers declined to give specific figures fearing a negative impact on their “marketing negotiations”. Two major grain suppliers have opted not to market GM, preferring to concentrate on the lucrative non-GM canola supply to Europe.


The Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association

The 'Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association' represents wool, grain, meat and livestock producers. It is a non-profit-making organisation, but it's website doesn't seem to reveal where it gets its funding, nor who its supporters/sponsors are.


OUR COMMENT

There's a lot being left unsaid, or blatantly spun, while Aussie farmers are left in a legal limbo.

If you have friends of relatives in Australia, alert them to what their government is up to. There are plenty of warnings from America to draw on: see, for example SLIP-SLIDING AROUND RESPONSIBILITY – September 2011, and GM ILLEGAL TRESPASS – October 2011.

SOURCES
  • Bob Phelps, GM crops and foods: promises, profits and politics, www.onlineopinion.com.au, 1.08.11
  • Lynn MacLaren (Greens WA Spokesperson on GMOs), No-one is buying GM canola in Western Australia, Media Release, 29.06.11
  • www.pgaofwa.org.au
  • Lisa Roth, GM canola – is anyone buying it? 3rd Degree, www.crikey.com.au, 30.09.11

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