Legal cloud for farms

27 Nov, 2002 10:00 PM
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GRAIN growers could face litigation after genetically modified crops are introduced, unless the Federal Gene Bill is modified to protect non-GM growers.

Newdegate farmer and GMO activist Julie Newman is very concerned about grain grower protection and has accused the Federal Government of negligence in its legislation on GM crop issues.

Mrs Newman said existing legislation could leave non-GM grain growers exposed to a legal backlash, or the financial responsibility for a product recall, in the incident of accidental contamination of a non-GM food crop by a GM crop.

Insurance companies have indicated GM liability will be uninsurable due uncontrollable contamination.

Mrs Newman was trying to draw the State and Federal Government's attention to the shortfalls in the legislation which she claimed left farmers unprotected.

"Farmers are extremely vulnerable because of this legislation," she said.

In a bid to protect non-GM grain growers, Ms Newman suggested the biotechnology companies involved be responsible for segregation costs imposed on non-GM growers.

"It appears the biotechnology companies are imposing all costs the liability onto farmers, which will make growing non-GM canola impossible," she said.

"It should not be considered unreasonable for all costs and liabilities to be the legislated responsibility of the biotechnology company for the introduction of their product."

Although some GM proponents play down the prevalence of cross contamination in canola, many scientists and farmers disagree.

Mrs Newman said in many cases those that dismiss cross-contamination, between neighbouring crops, base their assumptions on a one-year model.

The one-year model calculates that contamination can be controlled within the one per cent tolerance level of labeling legislation.

"However, over time contamination in crops will increase over time due to genetically engineered crops possessing a dominant patented gene that is transferable by uncontrollable pollen and direct seed transfer," Mrs Newman said.

"The spread of contamination will be further increased due to the selectiveness of Roundup Ready canola being resistant to the most commonly used farming chemical - glyphosate.

"It is not possible to eradicate contamination from certified seed stocks of non-GM canola used for planting the following years non-GM crop."

According to an ABARE Productivity Commission report grain growers' production costs could jump as much as 17pc after genetically modified (GM) crops are introduced to Australia.

The report revealed the blowout in costs were linked to identity preservation.

ABARE estimated the average cost to preserve the identity of non-GM grain in the supply chain was about 10pc of the crop value, for a 1pc contamination tolerance level to be achieved.

The cost would be more to comply with the European Union tolerance level, which is 0.5pc.

Despite claims of yield benefits in GM grain varieties, some believe the compliance costs would far outweigh any proposed yield benefit.

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