THE WA Supreme Court’s decision to award Kojonup GM canola farmer Michael Baxter victory over his organic farming neighbour Steve Marsh won’t end the ongoing anti-GM campaign by green and pro-organic groups.
But having the case “definitively thrown out of Court is a big step forward” says Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association (PGA) of WA’s Western Graingrowers committee chairman John Snooke.
Mr Snooke said he wanted to reassure the general public that there was no issue with the safety of GM canola or other crops grown globally, which was a central theme to the long-running legal challenge.
“There’s no problem here – that’s what we want to reiterate at the PGA,” he said.
“All facets of agriculture can coexist.
“What’s been the central question here, and the case in point from a legal point of view, is how the organic association interpreted their rules.
“They changed their interpretation all the time when it suited them and then they whipped up a political and media storm when the opportunity presented and it all failed.
“Now it’s time to get on with coexistence as it stands and we’ll all prosper together.”
Mr Snooke also heaped praise on Mr Baxter for withstanding the ongoing public pressure and political campaigning against him, underpinned by anti-GM sentiment and public fundraising.
He said that campaign was “filled” with misinformation about the safety of GMs and the practical application of GM canola in conventional broad acre farming practices.
“When this all first started over three and a half years ago, Michael Baxter was very, very stoic in a situation that was very foreign to him,” he said.
“But over time he just became resolute.
“Mick was initially very stoic in the face of uncertainty but he had a gut feeling that he was right and that he had done nothing wrong and wanted to defend himself.
“And that’s why the PGA supported him and his right to farm the way he wants.
“He was absolutely resolute in his position and was never going to change that position and give in to the demands for damages and in the end he won the case and good on him.”
Mr Snooke said the PGA was, “always confident” the courts would rule in Mr Baxter’s favour.
Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann said the Court’s decision sent a “very clear message” about the validity and authority of the federal food safety regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).
Mr Weidemann said the scientific role and authority of FSANZ and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, were often lost during the emotional hype of the anti-GM debate.
“As an industry and as consumers we must recognise that we have the highest levels of food safety testing through FSANZ that are regarded throughout the world,” he said.
“Despite all of the scaremongering, there haven’t been any issues with GMs world-wide.
“Globally GM crops continue to grow and growers here in Australia are starting to recognise the value of GM canola as a tool for helping them combat resistant weeds.
“At the end of the day the profitability of growers is the key to being sustainable long term and to remain in business.
“That’s the benchmark for us growers and we’re looking at all options available to us to remain profitable and GM is just another way to do that.”
Mr Weidemann said he expected the Court’s decision would now prompt growers who may have been sitting on the fence with concerns about growing GM canola, to now “start growing an approved, legal crop”.
“This case has been hanging over the industry’s head for more than three years now but those growers, who may have been hesitant before, will now take the opportunity to use the technology,” he said.
Mr Weidemann said conventional farmers may now sit down for talks about Australian organic certification standards.
He said local organic standards which prescribed a zero tolerance for GMs, and contradicted global organic standards which allowed for an adventitious presence of up to 0.9 per cent GM presence before certification is lost, should now need to be reviewed.