GM crops cop organic ban

24 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
The guidelines state that GM material is not compatible with the principles of organic production

A WESTERN Australian Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) proposal for tolerance to genetically modified (GM) material in organic produce has been rejected.

The DAFWA submission called for a 0.9 per cent tolerance level to GM material in organic produce, but has been turned down by the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC).

DAFWA made the submission in light of the high profile Marsh v Baxter court case in WA, where organic farmer Steve Marsh lost a case for compensation due to contamination by a neighbour growing GM crops.

OISCC claimed its decision to turn down the DAFWA was based on World Trade Organization (WTO) international food standards.

Marg Will, secretariat for OISCC, cited the WTO’s Codex Alimentarius guidelines, which she said excluded GM totally from organic systems.

“The guidelines state that GM material is not compatible with the principles of organic production,” she said.

For its part, DAFWA argued that there was a tolerance level for GM material in organic products in the EU.

“We requested an amendment of the standard to allow a 0.9 per cent tolerance level for the presence of GM, comparable with tolerance levels in the EU,” a DAFWA spokesperson said.

There was disappointment, but resignation from the WA broadacre farming community.

John Snooke, chairman of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia (PGA) Western Graingrowers, said he was not surprised at the decision.

“We didn’t think there would be any way this submission would be approved before the appeal of the Marsh v Baxter case goes ahead in March.”

He said he did not agree with the food safety angle.

“There were ample opportunities during the Marsh v Baxter cases to present evidence of GM’s harmfulness and nothing was presented, we feel this is purely a political decision.”

Coexistence potential

There may still be a chance for some sort of coexistence between the organic and GM sectors, an issue which has been topical, and sparked the DAFWA submission, since WA organic grain producer Steve Marsh lost his organic certification due to GM material from a neighbouring canola crop allegedly being present in his crop.

A submission from Australian Certified Organic (ACO) could leave organic produce contaminated with GM material unavailable for sale, however, the property where it was grown would not be decertified as an organic producer - as is currently the situation - if there was adventitious presence (AP) of a low level of GM matter.

Ms Will said the ACO submission was currently being looked at and that it would be one way to address the problem of accidental contamination.

“It is looking at more testing in-crop and a strong emphasis on buffers and exclusion zones,” Ms Will said.

She said any additional costs in compliance such as testing or setting up exclusion zones would fall to the organic producer.

Mr Snooke said he did not think organic standards needed to be changed.

“As we interpret the standards there was no need for Steve Marsh to be decertified in the first place, as it was an accidental incursion.

“The sad bit about this for the organic sector is that this zero tolerance approach only hurts their own industry.

“In conventional agriculture the use of thresholds works well to allow coexistence.”

Choice is key

Matthew Cossey, chief executive of CropLife, the Australian plant science peak body, said choice was the key.

“We want to ensure that all Australian farmers have a choice to grow any approved crop on their land. No farmer should have to change their farming methods simply because of unreasonable, illogical and internationally inconsistent organic marketing rules.

“That is why CropLife Australia is continuing to work with policy makers and farmer organisations, and welcomes engagement with the organics industry to improve the regulatory framework for farming systems, to prevent unnecessary risk for all farmers and their neighbours,” he said.

A DAFWA spokesperson said the department is currently considering the OISCC finding and will seek further clarification on the decision.

OISCC represents six companies licensed to give organic certification in Australia.

Gregor Heard

Gregor Heard

is the national grains writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


30/12/2014 2:29:11 PM

How is coexistence possible? All that happens when gm moves in, is cross pollination and in america surrounding neighbours livelihoods are destroyed by the gene police. This is forced upon all of us and there is no choice for those who don't want it. Aust should have learnt from the US, however having our own sovereignty seems to be an unaffordable luxury in this country.
31/12/2014 4:47:25 PM

Despite Europe's ban on GMO rapeseed, Monsanto and Bayer's genetically modified plants have contaminated other crops, causing genetic pollution:
1/01/2015 6:16:15 AM

wtf, coexistance has existed in Australia since 1996 when GM crops were introduced. Since then millions of acres have been planted across the country by thousands of farmers. The Marsh v Baxter case highlighted that management of organic standards is not practical. Integrity of organic production can be maintained but a more practical approach is required. This doesn't require litigation on either side, just common sense. If technology is regulated and declared safe, farmers should be able access it. If you want to talk about choice it goes both ways.
1/01/2015 1:09:09 PM

No James, this is not 'coexistence' - this is enforced GM contamination by 'allowing' up to 0.9% GM contamination. Now the WA Government has realised that the Organic Industry was never part of that initial plan, and now they want to move the goal post to enforce the 0.9% AP on organic growers. This is just the organic Industry saying "No thanks, we are ok as we are".
1/01/2015 3:04:14 PM

How does coexist occur when u have cross poll in both canola and weeds such as wild radish. As Dr Preston showed, it can occur at up to 4.3 klm. If I save my conventional variety for seed and my neighbour grows GM, how can I possibly keep his out? Now if mine was harvested and not retained, it would not matter, however my right to retain seed is removed thru GM contam. Intellectual property is the heart of the PPP, u think they will let me sow GM, even as a contam? I think GM canola moved in to WA in 2003, earlier this year Glyph resist was found in WRadish, could that be linked to cross poll?
25/03/2015 6:13:23 AM

Put simply what we grow must be kept under control------behind the fence. Case closed.
25/03/2015 8:49:44 AM

Where does the 0.9pc come from? If this increases to 1.1pc will the neighbour pay to clean it up to get back to 0.9pc?
25/03/2015 8:50:01 AM

What about when my neighbour's conventional crop cross-polinates my GM canola? Should I get compensated for that? Nothing stays "behind the fence". If you want to grow organic canola you take the risk of contamination.
9/04/2015 6:51:46 PM

Pay Attention, what you may be indicating and supporting is that, if say someone throws their garbage into your kitchen, then it is your problem and you would be pleased to remove it and clean and remove any contamination at your cost. You would also be happy to replace any losses as a result of this event at your own cost. After all: it's your kitchen and "you take the risk of contamination", and it is only a small percentage of the kitchen space! I hope you keep your cattle behind the fence.....they too, can make quite a mess.


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