GM blow to organic farmer

Kate MatthewsCountryman
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A Kojonup farmer has lost his organic status after his property was contaminated by genetically modified (GM) canola.

Stephen Marsh had a decertification notice affecting half of his farm dropped in his lap, after GM canola blew onto his land from a neighbouring property.

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia made the call, saying six paddocks totalling 293 hectares were no longer organic and would remain so until further testing. Another paddock was also under question.

To retain his status and repair his business, Mr Marsh has to eradicate all GM material in next year’s crop.

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Mr Marsh has stock currently in quarantine before they can be judged safe to return to certified paddocks.

“We are still coming to terms with how it will affect our business, but we are losing a fair part of our livelihood and what we set out to achieve. Monsanto can’t control or contain its technology, ” he said.

Mr Marsh’s organic oat crops and wheat will now be downgraded to conventional crops.

Fremantle bakery manager Arman Ghodrati from Bodhi’s Bakehouse said the price for organic wheat was $500 to $800 per tonne higher than conventional wheat.

The bakery was negotiating with Mr Marsh to purchase his crops.

Mr Ghodrati said he tried to buy direct from farmers and the news of contamination was both disappointing and concerning.

“The leniency of the State Government towards GM farmers is not good for us — trying to find organic farmers is already hard enough, ” he said.

Countryman asked Monsanto and Agriculture Minister Terry Redman for their response to three questions: how long will GM seed remain viable in the soil; who is legally responsible for contamination; and will farmers be allowed the freedom of choice to grow what they want?

A spokesman for Mr Redman said until the Minister received official confirmation from the Department of Agriculture and Food, he would not comment. The department’s results were expected this week.

Monsanto spokeswoman Keryn McLean said depending on seasonal conditions and tillage practices, all canola seed could remain viable for a number of years.

“We need to learn from experiences in other parts of the world, ” Ms McLean said.

“GM crops make up a high proportion of farming in North America and South America, and this hasn’t stopped the co-existence of organic production and GM cropping.

“Australian organic certifying bodies are not applying realistic tolerances to accommodate the normal occurrences in farming practices and are, in effect, harming their own members.”

Ms McLean said Roundup Ready canola posed no greater nor less risk to the environment than non-GM canola.

She said co-existence, which relies of thresholds of allowable presence, was critical in giving all farmers the freedom to use the production system of their choice.

“GM production next to or near organic production or adventitious presence should not pose a risk to de-certification, ” she said.

“Canola is not able to outcross with other broadacre crops.

“For instance, canola is not going to impact an organic olive grove or, in this case, organic wheat, no matter what its GM status.”

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