THE GLOVES are off in the GM debate once again, and this time its property rights at stake.
Unsurprisingly, both sides are claiming the moral high ground, and suggesting the other’s unreasonableness is hindering their right to farm.
Although you’d be pessimistic of the chances of it happening, a little compromise and co-existence could take place.
Firstly, the organic lobby needs to realise we live in an imperfect world, and zero tolerance is not possible.
Australia’s peak body for organic farming, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) has imposed draconian restrictions on its members, with zero tolerance to genetically modified material, unlike many other similar bodies internationally, which have provisions for adventitious presence (AP).
Farming does not take place in a vacuum and placing absolutes as guidelines is impractical.
If these rules continue to stand, co-existence between organic farmers and those growing GM canola will be impossible.
Ideally, the Grain Trade Australia industry standard for AP of 0.9pc would be adopted, but even a comprised figure of 0.5pc would give organic growers some room to manoeuvre.
But it is not just the organic industry being inflexible.
The attitude from key GM players, such as Monsanto, to contamination events has simply been that the GM volunteers are easily cleaned up and that farmers are ridiculous to even complain.
Responsibility needs to be taken for the contamination of other peoples’ livelihoods.
If a farmer’s chemical drifted over the fence and caused crop loss, there’d be no question that compensation would be required.
Same goes for inadvertent GM contamination. Farmers who have done nothing wrong shouldn’t be out of pocket to clean up their paddocks, while the same applies to growers producing the GM crops to best industry standards who through no fault of their own have caused contamination.
I nominate Monsanto to be responsible for the stewardship of their Roundup Ready gene. If it is as easy to control as they say, then cleaning up the odd patch of volunteers in neighbouring roadsides or paddocks will be the merest fraction of the fat patent fees it is collecting.
Lastly, we urgently need to develop a better arbitration process. Currently, situations such as the Kojonup contamination can only be resolved through the courts. Not a great way of forging relationships with your neighbours.
Perhaps Grain Trade Australia could set up a division of its successful dispute negotiation program to deal with GM contamination cases and find a sensible resolution without lining the pockets of legal eagles.
Theoretically, there’s no doubt successful co-existence between all grain producers, organic, conventional and GM, could work, but its going to require compromise, and given the hard heads involved on both sides of the argument, you’d have to be a bit pessimistic about workable protocols being thrashed out.