In Western Australia organic farmer Stephen Marsh has had his organic accreditation suspended after independent testing showed his oats and cereal crops had been contaminated by genetically modified (GM) seeds from a neighbouring property in Western Australia's Great Southern region. Tests by the WA Department of Agriculture have confirmed the contamination.
Related: GM canola growing in Melbourne suburb (Nov 2009) | Gene Ethics Network | Countercurrents: Wikileaks Memos Reveal U.S. Gov't Pushing Gene-Altered Crops Worldwide
The Liberal Party Barnett Government allowed Genetically Modified (GM) canola crops to be grown commercially early this year, despite warnings that contamination of organically grown crops was a palpable risk.
"Our livelihood is at stake as we are a certified organic farm and rely on the premium that comes with selling guaranteed GM-free organic food, in Australia and in overseas markets," Mr Marsh said in a media release on the Geneethics website, "Governments that allow GM canola to be grown must ensure whatever a farmer does within their boundary does not impact on neighbouring farms. But clearly, the technology can't be contained." he said.
The National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) is conducting an official investigation.
Jessica Harrison, a Gene Ethics Cropwatch technician said that governments have favoured only the GM industry and their growers. "In a letter to Mr Marsh, WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman recently wrote: '... zero per cent thresholds are unrealistic in biological systems'. Yet on March 11 this year, when announcing an end to the GM canola ban, Redman had said: 'The trials proved GM and non-GM canola can be segregated and marketed separately'.
"The government mislead us and now our farmers and consumers are paying the price. Laws need to be enacted to protect the majority of farmers want to stay GM-free. Farmers must be compensated for any loss of premiums and certification that result from GM contamination." said Harrison, "A majority of people will not buy GM contaminated food products and are flocking to organics but this incident puts that trust under a cloud."
In February 2010 three European grain traders wrote to Premier Barnett saying they would not buy WA grain if GM canola was introduced because of the risk of contamination. This statement was hidden from parliament during the disallowance debate in April, according to Geneethics.
Opposition Shadow Minister for Agriculture Mick Murray also attacked the Barnett Government and Food and Agriculture Minister Terry Redman in media statement on December 23 "Our greatest fears have become reality and the Minister must now deal with the consequences of his reckless and irresponsible decision."
Monsanto has pledged legal support to the GM canola grower if legal action is taken against them. "Mr Marsh could be left with overwhelming court costs as well as destroyed crops." said Mick Murray, "Well done Mr Redman, you may well have not only destroyed a farmer's livelihood but you have, in your wheeling and dealing with Monsanto, put the farmer in a position where he financially may not be able to defend himself."
The shadow minister has called for Terry Redman, the current Agriculture and Food Minister, to allow WA shires to declare themselves Genetically Modified (GM) crop-free.
The confirmation that organic crops have been contaminated follows revelations by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information requests that the Western Australian Government has failed to test for the illegal presence of genetically modified (GM) DNA in food.
"The FOI evidence shows that Agriculture Minister Terry Redman has completely abandoned the property rights of WA farmers and failed in the most basic duty of care," said Greenpeace GM campaigner Laura Kelly.
The WA Government has an obligation under Australia's Food Standards to test for compliance with GM labelling laws. Greenpeace submitted FoI requests in September 2010 for details of all tests conducted by the WA Government on food and food products to determine whether they contained novel DNA or proteins, between 2005 and the present. A reply was received from the WA Department of Health advising that "... the Department has not conducted or participated in, and does not hold any documents relating to, received any tests of the nature described in your application."
"Minister Redman has done nothing to protect farmers from inevitable contamination from GM crops. Now these FOI results show his government isn't fulfilling its legal requirement to test food for GM contamination and ensure it is correctly labeled under Australian food standards." said Kelly.
"This amounts to a big green light to foreign chemical companies like Monsanto to contaminate Western Australian farms, because there will be no legal or financial repercussions in the field or at the check-out, regardless of the costs this creates for our farmers and Australian consumers."
"Because of Redman's leadership failure, farmers have lost their non-GM market premium, WA consumers have lost their fundamental right to know if they are eating GM and foreign chemical companies will increase their control of Western Australia's food supply," concluded Kelly in a media statement on December 16.
Photo: Canola field by kju from Flickr - Creative Commons licenced