GM-tolerance bid rejected

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

An application by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA to permit some tolerance to GM organisms in organic foods has been rejected.

DAFWA applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council asking to permit up to 0.9 per cent GM content in organic products, comparable with European Union standards.

The move follows Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh losing his landmark court case seeking compensation for loss of organic status because of contamination from neighbour Michael Baxter's GM canola crop.

Organic Association of WA president Leesa Caldwell said in making the ruling, common sense had prevailed and the integrity of organics in Australia could remain highly respected and world-class.

"The organic sector should not be made the scapegoat for a failure to segregate GM crops from non-GM crops," she said.

In opposition to the application, OISCC received 3000 petition signatures and 2000 emails, submissions and calls, all supporting a zero-tolerance of GM in organic products.

Ms Caldwell said the onus should now be on the GM industry to provide stricter guidelines to GM growers to ensure their product does not contaminate non-GM crops.

"The WA Government should now be concentrating on how to compensate farmers who fall victim to GM contamination events by introducing farmer protection laws to compensate all non-GM farmers should they sustain losses from GM contamination, as has been requested in a recent petition to both State Houses of Parliament," she said.

The GM-Free Farmers' Group said DAFWA and the WA Government were treating consumers with contempt in making the submission.

Williams farmer and spokesperson for the group, Janette Liddelow, said GM farming was introduced to WA without key issues of containment and contamination being addressed.

"DAFWA should be relooking at the conditions imposed with the granting of exemptions to grow GM crops, rather than now expecting other sectors of the agricultural community to adjust standards," she said.

But, according to Australian Oilseed Federation vice-chairman Jon Slee, the rejection means organic growers are faced with unrealistic and unworkable conditions.

Mr Slee said zero-tolerance was unrealistic in today's global environment, given there was always the potential for a trace of contamination by GM seeds carried by factors such as wind or birds.

He said had there been some tolerance, Mr Marsh may not have lost his organic certification when GM canola contaminated his property. "Other major countries also allow some tolerance, for instance Europe allows 0.9 per cent GM content," he said.

A spokesperson for DAFWA said it was considering this response and would seek further clarification from the OISCC.

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