FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has expressed relief at today’s verdict in the Marsh v Baxter case in WA, that has found in favour of genetically modified (GM) canola grower Michael Baxter.
Minister Joyce said if the case had found in favour of the plaintiff, organic farmer, Steve Marsh, it could have set a significant precedent.
“The court’s the court and the court has made its decision and made its findings,” he said.
“But to be honest, if it had gone the other way it would have created a precedent that would have been awfully hard for us to deal with, because it would have meant everybody’s responsible for their neighbour and I don’t know how that one was going to work.”
Mr Joyce said there were “huge sensitivities about GM crops” but there was also a strong counter argument.
He said if you believe in GM crops, you wouldn’t believe in Bollgard (GM) cotton, and if you don’t believe in Bollgard cotton “you do believe in spraying crops with (the toxic chemical) endosulfan 17 times a year”.
In a recent interview with Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Joyce said the GM debate had to move on from the religious and to the scientific.
He said GM critics had every right to be precautionary and diligent “but if you’re absolute, then you’re really stopping a passage to do incredible things”.
Today, he reiterated the need for science-based decision making.
He said GM “polarises people” but would ultimately be a growing market.
“There will be a premium market for things that are GM-free but I don’t think we can make that call for everybody,” he said.
Mr Joyce said if markets were prepared to pay “an exceptional premium” for non-GM crops, then farmers would grow non-GM crops “and then it’ll work”.
He said it was also preferable if such issues were sorted out between neighbouring farmers, rather than litigating via the courts.
Australian Greens agriculture spokesperson and WA Senator Rachel Siewert pledged the campaign to protect people against the threat of GM crops would continue “despite the disappointing verdict” for Mr Marsh.
“Today's decision reiterates the fact that the rights of non-GM farmers are not being protected and the system needs to change,” she said.
“It is clear that non-GMO farmers such as Steve Marsh face significant financial impacts if their crops are contaminated.”
“GM crops have not proven to be safe, nor have they been able to live up to the claims they can increase yields and reduce pesticide use.
“Serious concerns remain about the use of GM crops in Australia and to address this the Greens are calling for the reinstatement of the moratorium on GM crops in WA and changes to the laws governing liability and food labelling in order to protect the choices of farmers and consumers across the state.
“I congratulate Steve Marsh and his supporters for their work.
“They have carried a heavy burden for a number of years and their efforts will remain invaluable to the campaign for choice, transparency and protection for farmers, consumers and the environment.”
Monsanto Australia and NZ managing director Daniel Kruithoff said today’s judgement “reaffirms that different crops can be successfully grown side-by-side in Australia”.
“This legal dispute has been difficult for the farmers and communities involved,” he said.
“We hope that representatives from all farming sectors can work together to ensure disputes like this are avoided in the future.
“Australian farmers and consumers alike can be assured that local agriculture is successfully providing the choice in crops and food they expect.
“Organic, conventional and GM crops have grown side-by-side in Australia for many years which has contributed to the international competitiveness of local farmers.
“We expect Australia’s long history of being able to use different production systems to continue to improve the success and sustainability of local agriculture.”
Mr Kruithoff said Australian farmers are increasingly turning to Roundup Ready (RR) canola for its effective weed control and impressive yields.
In addition to the agronomic benefits, a recent independent study revealed that RR canola reduced farmers’ environmental footprint through lowered diesel consumption and herbicide use.”
WA Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren said WA laws “have failed a fairness test today”.
“This is a saddening result for Steve Marsh and non-GMO farmers holding their breath in hopes of a defence against Monsanto,” she said.
“It is clear that GM farming cannot co-exist with organic farming when voluntary regulation practices are ignored.
“What we have seen in this court case is an undeniable dismissal of voluntary regulations that could have prevented the contamination of Steve Marsh's organic crops.
“The judgment comes at great cost to the Marsh family and non-GMO farmers everywhere.
“The Greens will continue to work toward a fairer system were one farmer isn't forced to battle his neighbour.
“There must be a better way.”