GM-free choice is being eroded in WA – by Shirley Collins
GM-free choice is being eroded
Good food and farming was on the menu in Perth in early July. The lineup of events included Bush Food and Beer by Slow Food Perth at Taste Budds Cooking Studio. It was to celebrate and support two delegates from the Broome Aboriginal community, Pat Torres and Val Sibosado, who will be attending Terra Madre this year in Turin, Italy, and are working on the establishment of a ‘bush orchard’ in the north to cultivate many of the West Kimberley’s endemic fruit and nut trees.
Events also included the Good Food and Wine Show with “a decadent line up of Australia’s best food producers, wineries and chefs” and celebrity chef and My Kitchen Rules judge Pete Evans talking on the paleo way and “back to basics”. He believes that “the success of TV shows such as My Kitchen Rules and MasterChef Australia are planting the seeds of change for the next generation. The children watching these shows have awareness of so many types of ingredients and cuisines and techniques [which] will shape the way we eat in the future. They will demand to know where their food comes from (non-GMO), how it is produced (organic), is it sustainable, how have the animals been raised and how does it affect us nutritionally?” (The West Australian Mind+Body 15/7/14)
However, these positive affirmations for good food and farming seem at odds with a three-pronged pitch to take agriculture in the opposite direction.
Firstly, WA Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston wants to allow GM contamination in certified organic food and the department has made a submission to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council to change the guidelines from zero tolerance to tolerate 0.9% GM.
Secondly, WAFarmers, a lobby group with a membership representing less than 50% of WA farmers, has made a submission to the federal regulator Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and in turn Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to allow increased application rates and increased MRL (maximum residue level) of glyphosate on canola and wheat.
Thirdly, sections of the Liberal and National parties and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA), a lobby group with a membership representing about 6% of WA farmers, are pushing to scrap WA’s GM Crops Free Areas Act due for review this year. Under the laws, WA has a statewide moratorium on GM crops. To grow a GM crop approved federally by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), the state government must grant an exemption. The previous Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman sought exemptions for GM cotton and GM canola. Disallowance motions by Labor and Greens failed on the vote in Parliament but the debates are on the public record in Hansard and provide solid justification for the Act and the moratorium to be retained.
The Marsh v Baxter case highlights the risks of growing GM crops. In 2009, the government approved commercial-sized trials of GM canola to be grown in WA, then the first year of unlimited release was 2010. It saw Kojonup organic farmer Steve Marsh lose certification on 70% of his farm from an incursion of GM canola swathes that blew across from the farm of his neighbour, Michael Baxter. GM canola is patented to Monsanto but grown under a single-use licence to the GM grower. The government put only voluntary guidelines in place to maintain segregation of GM and non-GM with all the risk imposed on the non-GM farmer to keep GM canola out rather than the GM grower to keep it in. With no laws in place to provide compensation for economic loss from GM contamination, Steve’s only avenue for redress was to sue his neighbour. This farmer v farmer court case over GM contamination is a world first. Due to the public interest in Australia and internationally, the transcripts and judgment are available on the WA Supreme Court website. Search Marsh v Baxter February 2014
The judgment on May 28 dismissed the case. However, Steve Marsh is exercising his right to appeal which is likely to take 6 to 12 months. The integrity of organic food, the choice to grow GM-free crops and our right to eat GM-free food are on the line. The Safe Food Foundation is coordinating fundraising for Steve’s legal costs which run into millions and he could lose his farm. If you would like to donate, please go to: www.safefoodfoundation.org/helpthisfarmer