Farmers call for GM-free zone

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A group of Williams farmers has accused Agriculture Minister Terry Redman of standing in the way of selling their canola as GM-free, causing them to potentially lose lucrative niche markets.

A total of 12 adjoining farmers approached the Minister last month, requesting their 40,000ha be officially declared a GM-free farming zone.

Group spokeswoman Janette Liddelow said the declaration would make it easier to market and label their combined 5000ha canola crop as GM-free.

She said she now considered Mr Redman the ‘Minister for Monsanto’, because he continually put the multinational’s interests before the farming community.

“He has reneged on facilitating the establishment of GM-free farming zones, ” she said, adding that being part of a declared zone would offer farmers a liability safeguard against the presence of patented GM seed.

Simon Harding, one of the 12 farmers seeking GM-free status, said he had been in negotiations with Japanese importers seeking GM-free canola.

He said the Japanese delegation saw the establishment of a legally declared zone as important.

However, it was a notion rebuffed by Mr Redman, who said the Williams group did not need a declaration to be able to market their canola.

His office said establishing such zones simply created a mountain of red tape, when all farmers needed to do to be certified as GM-free was test their canola — something Mr Redman’s spokesman said would need to happen regardless of whether it came from a ‘zone’.

“I welcome any effort to come up with creative ways to market WA produce and I support the group’s idea to form a non-GM farming zone, pool their canola and promote it as non-GM to a particular segment of the market, ” Mr Redman said.

“This can be achieved under the current regulations, without the need for any special exemption.”

But it will come at a cost, and Ms Liddelow said it was unfair to expect non-GM growers to bear the financial burden of canola testing.

She has called for the government to foot the bill.

“By taking us down this path, Mr Redman has imposed costs on the market, ” Ms Liddelow said.

“The government should be compensating us for these extra costs, which are only going to increase exponentially as more people grow GM crops.”

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