GM canola contaminates organic farm

Posted by Josette Dunn on 10th December 2010

A West Australian organic farmer has found genetically manipulated (GM) canola seeds contaminating nearly two thirds of his arable land. Australian organic standards mandate zero tolerance for any GM so he will consider suing for financial loss, the first case of its kind in Australia.

CanolaSteve Marsh says he used test strips to identify the seeds of GM canola which have blown more than 1.5 km inside his boundary and contaminated about 220 hectares. He believes the seed may have blown in after a neighbouring GM canola farmer swathed the crop to prepare for harvest and the severed dry stalks and seeds became airborne.

Mr Marsh’s organic certifiers, the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) is conducting an official investigation.

“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 says. “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.

Gene Ethics Cropwatch technician Jessica Harrison says 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.

“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.

“Canola has been found to sprout for up to sixteen years, according to the Office of Gene Technology Regulator which licensed the crop,” Ms Harrison concludes.