A GENETICALLY modified canola spillage near the south west WA town of Williams last week, has sparked renewed calls for a prohibition on the technology.
About 15 tonnes of GM canola spilled in the heart of a self declared GM free zone, along the Perth to Albany Highway, within a few hundred metres of the farming property of a prominent and outspoken biotechnology critic.
A road train, carrying 22 tonnes of GM canola from the Cranbrook CBH receival site to Pinjarra, suffered a seizure in the front differential which sparked a fire that melted a hole in the bottom of the lead trailer, causing spillage onto the road and into the gutter.
Safe Food Foundation Director, Scott Kinnear, said the spill highlighted the complex network of legal responsibilities that needed to be unravelled and understood, given the introduction of GM canola into WA, Victoria and NSW.
He said 12 graingrowers in the region near the spill had declared themselves GM free and were negotiating contracts with Japan.
He said they had a right to know who was responsible for clean up and monitoring costs and other legal implications, including who would pay compensation.
He said it was possible that the truck driver, the trucking company, CBH and the WA Department of Food and Agriculture and other parties, “may all have some legal liability for the cost of cleanup and monitoring over many years and for loss and damage should contamination cause loss of GM free status and loss of income”.
A CBH spokesman said all appropriate protocols were followed to remove the grain and prevent any contamination “in the safest manner possible”.
The bulk grain handling co-operative said it immediately deployed a crew to assess the risk and assist with the clean-up while a professional waste removal company was engaged to manage the task.
The spokesman said the canola, gravel and top soil from the surrounding area were removed and the site clean-up would continue to ensure the risk of contamination was mitigated.
He also said CBH promised to work with the WA Department of Agriculture and Food to monitor the surrounding area for six to eight weeks.
But Williams’s graingrower Janette Liddelow, a long-standing critic of GM technology who farms close to where the spillage occurred, renewed calls for WA Agriculture Minister Terry Redman to reinstate WA’s GM moratorium.
She said the truck spill proved what anti-GM campaigners had been saying about potential contamination, and the exemption order needed to be reversed while the potential legal implications were sorted out.
The technology’s patent holder, Monsanto, played down the incident, saying the agricultural industry understood grain spillages can and do occur, due to traffic accidents or a truck breakdown.
Monsanto Australia spokesperson, Keryn McLean, said CBH had a well established management procedure for handling and clean up of grain spills, which was carried out when the spill occurred to ensure minimal environmental impact and maximise preservation of the spilt canola seed.
Ms McLean said if canola seed from the spilled load were to germinate, the volunteer plants could be easily managed, “just as any other canola or grain volunteers can be managed irrespective of the GM status of the grain”.
“Roundup Ready canola is only tolerant to only one type of herbicide and so any other herbicide that controls broad leaf weeds are recommended,” she said.