Labor changes tack on GM canola

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WA Greens candidate and Cunderdin farmer Ian James.
Camera IconWA Greens candidate and Cunderdin farmer Ian James. Credit: Picture: Jo Fulwood

WA Labor has backflipped on its staunch resistance to plant biotechnology and says it will instead turn its focus to preventing farm-to-farm GM contamination.

Shadow agriculture minister Mick Murray said the passing of the GM Repeal Act last year meant there was “no scope for the State to stop GM canola”.

Labor originally planned to ban GM farming if it won the State election in March.

Mr Murray said his party would instead create “a severe penalty” for GM canola cross-contamination if it was voted in.

“While our position hasn’t changed the reality is it (GM canola) is in the ground,” he said.

“We have no appetite for GM wheat or other crops to come in.

“We would like to see some kind of severe penalty (for contamination) ... I wouldn’t speculate on the cost but said it would be more than hundreds of dollars.”

Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis said Labor’s position was unclear and its backflip on GM canola was spin.

“It’s now impossible to see exactly where Labor stand on GM crops,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt to try and fool farmers into believing that there is no risk in voting for Labor at this election.

“The GM canola crop in WA in 2016 alone is estimated to be worth more than $200 million, which could still be put at risk under a ‘backflipping’ Labor Government.”

The Barnett Government changed regulations to allow GM canola in 2010 and hundreds of thousands of hectares are now grown in WA each year.

In October, it also repealed the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003 to allow other Federally-approved GM crops to be grown in WA.

Previously, WA was classed a GM crops-free zone with just two exceptions, GM canola grown Statewide and GM cotton in the Kimberley’s Ord irrigation area. The repeal also removed the agriculture minister’s power to ban the use of the technology in WA.

WA Greens candidate Ian James, who farms at Cunderdin, labelled Labor’s new position “disappointing”.

Mr James said his party would continue to fight against GM crops in WA.

“With election pending Labor has done a backflip on its position leaving the Greens to protect WA farmers,” he said.

“We are definitely disappointed and it is going to make it very hard to reinstate the GM Crops Free Areas Act; the Greens are the last man standing and we will pressure Labor to return to their position.”

Mr James said the Greens would also look to “strengthen” the existing GM Technology Act 2000, which is under review.

Mr Murray, however, said Labor accepted GM canola was in WA to stay and would instead push for “controls to be put in place for contamination”.

“I do not want to see again a civil case where friends and neighbours have had a court case hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

“I believe a protocol should have been originally put in place.”

The prominent legal case between Kojonup farmers Mr Marsh and Michael Baxter exploded into the Supreme Court in 2014.

Mr Baxter faced allegations that he was negligent in allowing his GM crop to contaminate his neighbour Mr Marsh’s organic farm.

But the Supreme Court rejected Mr Marsh's compensation bid, deeming Mr Baxter not negligent and instead awarding him costs.

More than 1,268,000ha of GM canola has been planted in WA since 2009.

GM canola has been grown in Victoria and New South Wales since 2008.

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