Call for GM, organic co-operation

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The Grains Industry Association of WA is reaching out to the organic industry in an attempt to develop a way for all farming systems to co- exist.

GIWA chairman Sean Powell said part of the WA Grains Industry 2025+ strategy document - aimed at doubling the value of WA's grain industry over the next decade - had a policy of co-existence between all farming systems, including organic farmers and those using new technologies such as genetically modified crops.

Mr Powell said measures needed to be introduced to ensure all types of farming systems could co-exist, as written into the 2025+ strategy, launched by Agriculture Minister Ken Baston last February.

"Mainstream agriculture is not going to go away, and it needs access to new technologies," he said.

"But on the flip side of that, there are those that will go down the organic path.

"Co-existence means there should be tolerance between both types of systems.

"Give and take would be required from both sides, so we need to get representatives of the organic industry in the room so that we can have this dialogue and find a way forward.

"GIWA wants to arrive at a point where we don't have farmer versus farmer going to the court."

As part of initial steps of engaging with the organic industry, GIWA last week made a recommendation to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council - which sets the standard for the organic industry - to introduce a GM tolerance level of 0.9 per cent, which is inline with the European standard.

The current tolerance to GM contamination in Australia is zero.

GIWA has also written to each of the seven individual certifiers in Australia with this proposal.

Mr Powell hopes this will open up the dialogue.

He did not suggest what measures the GM industry could take to reduce their impact on organic farmers, but said this is why engagement with the organic industry needed to take place.

"We have said there needs to be a small level of tolerance from the organic side," he said.

"The organic industry needs to be coming to us with some solutions they would like to see too. We are open to hearing their suggestions on how we can co-exist - it is why we want to engage and have discussions.

"GIWA sees this is a priority; this is the point of our reaching out - we are reaching out to the organic farmers to start to engage and we hope they would."

Mr Powell said although GIWA is hoping to achieve informal agreement between all parties in the first instance, if this went smoothly it could eventually lead to formal protocols to help the different systems co-exist.

He said GIWA had an inclusive policy and was keen that organic farmers became members of the whole of industry organisation.

However, he said they did not need to be members to engage on these issues.

Three Springs organic grain farmer Rob Weir said he accepted GM crops were here to stay and welcomed the opportunity for the organic industry to discuss with mainstream farmers how both sides could co-exist.

But Mr Weir did not feel increasing tolerance levels was necessarily the solution, as consumers had the right to eat GM-free food.

Last year the Department of Agriculture and Food WA approached the OISCC requesting tolerance for up to 0.9 per cent GM content in organic products.

The submission was rejected.

Mr Baston has said the GM Crops Free Areas Act would be repealed in State Parliament this year.

The State Government had been criticised for not having protocols in place to ensure that both systems could operate side by side, without impacting each other.

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