Steve Marsh is an organic farmer who lost 70% of his organic certification when GE canola allegedly blew onto his farm from the farm owned by neighbour Michael Baxter. A trial is scheduled to start in the Western Australia Supreme Court today. The case of Marsh v Baxter- where an organic farmer is seeking compensation for contamination by Genetically Modified Organisms- is the first of its kind in Australia. Sarah Coles spoke to Senator Rachel Siewert about the debate surrounding GMOs.
‘Obviously we are on the side of Steve Marsh. It highlights the failure in our laws in that it’s the farmer that has been contaminated that has to bare the cost of, or the impact of, the contamination. We should be reversing that, so that the farmer who chooses to grow GM is responsible for any contamination that occurs.’
The peak organic body, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to GMOs. GM canola has been developed by Bayer Crop Science, Monsanto, BASF and DuPont. The GM canola that Baxter planted is a Monsanto product known as ‘Roundup Ready Canola’. According to the company website, ‘Monsanto has developed Roundup Ready canola (Brassica napus) plants that are tolerant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup Ready brand herbicides.’ Siewert is critical, ‘GE crops have increased pesticide use. We know that various crops are building pesticide resistance. There is not adequate labelling. Concentration of the ownership of GM seed or plant seed in a few multinationals is not in the best interests of farmers.’
Trials of GE canola were carried out in 2003 and in 2003 the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) deemed GE canola safe. In 2004 Western Australia passed the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003 and was declared a GM free area. In 2008 an exception to the rule snuck in. Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman passed through legislation which allowed for the commercial cultivation of GE cotton in the Ord River area. In 2010 the WA Government allowed the commercialisation of GM canola; the Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman approved an exemption order under the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003. Senator Siewert says, ‘There’s tremendous pressure…from the multinationals around the world, and there has been here, on the political process to allow GM trials and cropping and also from some sections of the farming community.’ WA Premier Colin Barnett has expressed pro GMO views saying ‘WA farmers are some of the best in the world but they need to have access to new technology like GM canola to remain competitive in the global marketplace.’
Back in 2010 almost 90% of submissions made to a review of the Genetically Modified Crop Free Areas Act 2003 opposed the introduction of GM crops. After the bill was amended Opposition agriculture Minister Mick Murray warned, ‘WA’s green, GM free image has been lost forever.’ The 2010 decision by the State Government to lift the ban on GM canola allowing for the commercial cultivation of GM canola is the decision behind next week’s court battle.
You may wonder why Baxter is being sued and not the company that manufactured the product. The answer is Monsanto ensures that farmers sign a Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement; a no liability agreement. Marsh is being represented pro-bono by Slater & Gordon. Baxter is being supported by the Western Australian Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) chaired by a pro-GE canola farmer John Snooke. When questioned about the PGA Siewert says, ‘There are a group of farmers that have decided that they don’t want to grow GM crops and those organisations are failing those farmers because they’re not representing their interests… We shouldn’t be facilitating multinational ownership of seeds.’
Other states have a ban on GMOs; South Australia has a moratorium in place until 2019 and Tasmania until 2014. Reading the Hansard from 2003 the Leader of the Liberal Party in WA Mr P.D.Omodei predicted the future, ‘The idea of having regional areas exempt from GM crops would be very difficult to monitor. Areas of GM crops that are planted with buffers create a very complex issue.’ Complex indeed. The court case opens today. Both sides of the debate will be watching.
This article originally published on Dolphin Lettuce Tomato