Greens want GM protection

Kate MatthewsCountryman

The Greens party is calling for legislation to protect farmers from GM contamination after a scare in the Central Wheatbelt.

Cunderdin grain grower Ian James feared his property was contaminated after a hail storm and heavy rain washed GM canola seeds from his neighbour's farm to his property.

It is the third time contamination concerns in WA have attracted media attention.

In August, a truck near Williams spilled GM canola along the highway and last December organic grower Steve Marsh partially lost his organic accreditation after GM canola seed blew onto his property.

Mr Marsh wants to take action against his neighbour but no legal papers have been served.

The Department of Agriculture and Food last week met Mr James and his neighbour and tested plant samples taken from the roadsides and paddocks concerned.

No samples taken from Mr James' property by the department tested positive for GM but one sample taken from the roadside near his farm tested positive.

Mr James, who is an innovative farmer using exhaust emissions from his tractor for fertiliser, is against using GM canola because his long-term goal is to become certified organic.

"I have signs up and have made it very clear - we don't want GM and won't plant GM here. We want to be GM free and produce GM-free products for market," he said.

Ideally, Mr James would like to see a return of the moratorium against using the technology, but until then, he said farmer protection legislation was a good idea.

His neighbour growing the GM canola declined to comment.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) suggested the scare was being used as an emotive publicity stunt by anti-GM crusaders.

PGA spokesman John Snooke, who also farms in Cunderdin, said if the weather-destroyed crop had been wheat or TT canola, nothing would have been said.

"This is an opportunistic use of the misfortune of one farmer to advance a campaign against GM technology," he said.

Mr Snooke said the rights of farmers were protected by common law and that having a 0.9 per cent GM tolerance threshold for non-GM canola deliveries meant Mr James would not be negatively affected.

But others, including Greens member Lynn MacLaren, say legislation is needed to protect non-GM farmers from economic loss if contamination occurs.

Ms MacLaren said the Greens party was investigating Federal and State legislation.

"It's clear that it's going to be an issue and is something that the State should have put in place before lifting the moratorium," she said.

A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Terry Redman said the minister was not considering farmer protection legislation, as farmers were already protected under common law.

The GM Free Australia Alliance, Gene Ethics, MADGE and Greenpeace are working to draft farmer protection legislation.

This would require biotech companies to pay a levy at a Federal level after approval from the Office of Gene Technology Regulator or at a State level after seed exchange.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Laura Kelly said the levy monies, governed by a regulatory body, would be used for GM contamination clean-ups and to keep farmers from battling each other in the courts.

"It takes liability off individual growers and puts it back onto the GM companies that profit from the technology," Ms Kelly said. "It benefits both non-GM and GM farmers and keeps them from having to drag each other through court."

Greenpeace will visit Mr James' farm next week for on-farm testing.

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