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Contamination fears mount

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Genetically modified contamination in WA is imminent, according to organic growers, who last week found GM canola seed pods just metres from organically certified paddocks.

Earlier this year, Kojonup organic grower Stephen Marsh warned the State Government that contamination was unavoidable and would jeopardise his organic status, after a neighbour planted GM canola across the road.

Last week, Mr Marsh found six swathed canola plants from a neighbour’s GM crop against his boundary.

He now fears that plants with seed pods will continue to blow across the road and into his paddocks until the swaths are picked up.

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It would take just one seed from those pods to germinate on his land for his organic status to be revoked and his livelihood crushed.

And should that happen, Mr Marsh has warned that it could be a legal nightmare for everyone involved.

He’s one of several Kojonup organic farmers that received legal advice recently suggesting they should implement full biosecurity measures and declare themselves a GM-free zone to protect their rights against contamination.

It’s a situation Mr Marsh had hoped to avoid, but if GM canola is found to germinate on his property, someone is liable.

“It’s breaching the declared GM-free zone,” he said.

“Whether the responsibility will be on the seed patent owner, the neighbour or the shire, we don’t know, because as far as I know, this situation hasn’t occurred in Australia before.

“What’s concerning us now is that those seed pods are shattering.”

Mr Marsh hopes Kojonup shire will move quickly to clean up up any GM canola along road verges, but said discussions with his certifier were ongoing.

“They’re not going to change the zero tolerance for GM — they can’t do that,” he said.

“So, we’ve got to wait and see and simply hope it doesn’t come up in our crops next year.”

Mr Marsh said the most disappointing aspect was that he had shown Agriculture Minister Terry Redman evidence of conventional canola contamination on his land from 2008, but the Minister had failed to heed the warnings.

“(Organic growers) weren’t included in any of the discussions about GM,” he said.

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