Pro-GM farmers put Baston in firing line

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
State Agriculture Minister Ken Baston.
Camera IconState Agriculture Minister Ken Baston. Credit: Michael O'Brien/The West Australian.

Supporters of genetically modified crops have turned up the heat on the State Government to scrap laws which threaten the use of the technology in WA.

The pro-GM lobby celebrated a landmark legal victory last week, but fear growing of GM crops will become illegal if Labor wins the election due in March next year.

CropLife Australia, an industry group funded by seed and chemical companies, WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association launched a television and newspaper advertising campaign last night to push the case for GM crops.

There is concern within the three lobby groups that the Government is not making the repeal of the GM Crops Free Areas Act a high priority.

Prominent farmers have written to Agriculture Minister Ken Baston asking him to provide a date for repeal or stand down.

GM canola is grown in WA under a special exemption. Repeal of the Act would allow the use of any GM crop approved by the national regulator.

Shadow agriculture minister Mick Murray said yesterday that Labor would revoke the exemption for GM canola if elected and look at introducing even tougher laws to protect organic farmers like Steve Marsh from GM contamination.

A private company withdrew organic certification of Mr Marsh’s farm after GM canola swathes were found on his property late in 2010. Mr Marsh tried to take an $85,000 damages claim against his GM canola-growing neighbour Mike Baxter to the High Court but his application was rejected on Friday after earlier rebuffs in WA’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

CropLife chief executive Matthew Cossey said it had joined forces with WA’s farm lobby groups to call on the Government to prioritise the Bill removing the GM moratorium.

Mr Cossey said access to “these safe, effective modern agricultural innovations” was under serious threat.

PGA spokesman John Snooke said GM and non-GM crops were grown alongside each another in many parts of the world and the Act should be repealed urgently.

WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young said “there is no factual basis to deny growers the right to choose a technology that is safe.”

Mr Snooke and Mr Young are among growers who endorsed the letter to Mr Baston, who many expect to be dumped in a ministerial reshuffle.

“Legislation to repeal the Act was tabled in Parliament last year and I expect it to be passed later this year,” Mr Baston said.

Premier Colin Barnett is expected to outline his legislative priorities when Parliament resumes tomorrow.

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