GM-free canola market ‘at risk’

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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GM Free Farmers Group’s Darrell Boase and Chris Edmonds with a suspected GM canola plant.
Camera IconGM Free Farmers Group’s Darrell Boase and Chris Edmonds with a suspected GM canola plant. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

The GM-Free Farmers Group and Conservation Council of WA have warned that WA’s markets for non-GM canola are at risk after genetically modified canola plants were found this week growing at five sites in the metropolitan area, in some cases more than a 100km from the closest grain farm.

The GM-Free Farmers Group, representing around 150 WA broadacre farmers, raised the alarm after GM canola, which is resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate, was found growing on road verges at Mundaring, Kewdale, Mandogalup (near Kwinana) and two Maddington sites.

All plants tested GM positive. Many were flowering and most had fully-formed pods, meaning they could create more seed.

The affected sites were along the main trucking routes to the Kwinana port and were the likely result from spillages of the tiny seeds during transport, the GM-Free Farmers Group said.

Conservation Council of WA spokesman Nic Dunlop said this highlighted challenges to the State’s policy of keeping GM and non-GM canola separate for export markets.

“The reality shows the GM canola is not being contained and GM volunteers can emerge a great distance away from where the crops are planted,” Dr Dunlop said.

Europe is WA’s largest market for non-GM canola. About 30 per cent of the State’s canola crop this year was planted to GM varieties.

Australian Oilseed Federation tech committee chairman Jon Slee said a 0.9 per cent GM tolerance threshold in European countries meant small amounts of GM detection did not pose a significant risk to non-GM market requirements, though the issue would continue to be monitored.

GM-Free Farmers spokesman Darrell Boase, a Goomalling farmer, said Perth residents should also be alarmed.

“The public are becoming increasingly concerned about herbicides being sprayed along road verges and in public spaces so would be outraged to learn of extra chemicals now being needed to control the Glyphosate resistant canola,” Mr Boase said.

Mr Boase questioned who was responsible for cleaning up contaminations on road verges, suggesting it should be chemical giant Monsanto which owns the patent to GM canola seed, or the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, which is responsible for the State’s biosecurity.

However, Monsanto corporate affairs director Adam Blight said the responsibility lay with the individual land owners, in these cases the local government authorities.

DAFWA agreed removal of roadside volunteers was the responsibility of local government authorities and cited recommendations from the Office of Gene Technology Regulator for integrated weed management, which included alternative and additional herbicides to the commonly used Glyphosate, and mechanical methods.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said it was only a matter of time before GM plants were found growing in Perth.

“I expect Perth residents will be quite concerned, but they shouldn’t be as GM products are safe,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say it is Monsanto’s responsibility to clean up any contamination, but if Monsanto wanted to be a good public citizen, perhaps this is something it should consider.”

Mr Boase was also concerned given evidence that GM canola could cross pollinate and share genetic material with other Brassica crops such as cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

The evidence was presented by University of Adelaide’s Dr Christopher Preston during the Steve Marsh versus Michael Baxter court case where an organic farmer lost certification after his neighbour’s GM canola blew onto his property.

But Vegetables WA chief executive John Shannon did not see a risk to backyard or commercial vegetable growers.

“Brassicas are usually harvested before they flower, which means reduces any potential for cross contamination,” he said.

“Even if cross pollination did occur, the seeds would result in a plant that is no longer a cauliflower, broccoli or brussels sprout and would be inedible in any case.”

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