Purity fears over spilt GM seed

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Some Williams farmers are taking the threat of contamination seriously after 15 tonnes of genetically modified canola were spilt on Albany Highway on Tuesday last week.

The farmers say just one seed of GM canola in their conventional canola crops could destroy a lucrative market with Japan and expansion plans into the domestic market.

The Japanese market has zero tolerance to GM seed and requires growers to test at regular intervals around the boundary of all crops.

The group of farmers, who last year wanted to declare their land GM free, now want the moratorium against GM canola reinstated and for growers using the technology to pay any associated costs.

They say they will take up an offer for legal advice from Perth firm Slater and Gordon.

Non-GM growers Jamie and Jo Fowler planted 3500 hectares of canola this year and say if contaminated it will jeopardise the relationship with suppliers.

“Our farm runs under a management practice of safe quality food, ” Mr Fowler said.

“We audit it annually and we have critical control points to manage a GM-free crop and need to meet a number of obligations.

“If GM canola wants to co-exist, the GM industry has to take liability. In this instance, we could all have the same problem as Steve Marsh, just on a bigger scale.”

Farming across the road from the spill, Graham Harding, whose family company exports conventional canola and hay, said the critical issue in the debate over GM versus non-GM was the right to save seed.

“My concern is eventually Monsanto will have control of all seed and too much influence on price and as producers we will have no choice, ” Mr Harding said.

While the spill has been termed a “freak accident”, the group believes it demonstrates that things do go wrong with machinery and people.

“Nothing is completely safe, there is always the chance of human error or machinery breakdown, ” Mr Gillett said.

“A fire on this occasion made the spill noticeable, but who’s going to see the inevitable small leak spreading GM canola all the way up the highway?”

On Monday, Geoff Reed, whose farm is next to the site of the spill, said the GM canola seed was starting to germinate and had not been cleaned up properly.

“The problem is when it was cleaned up off the road, they pushed it into a watertable and spread it out, ” Mr Reed said.

The non-GM supporter is concerned that any presence of GM canola in his oat crop which was next to the spill site could affect his marketing ability.

Mr Reed also said that he saw a large number of parrots eating seed which could result in it being spread further.

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