LAST Tuesday's 15 tonne genetically modified (GM) canola spill on the Albany Highway near Williams has sparked anti-GM campaigners to take on legal reinforcement to protect themselves.
But despite the continuing debate over GM's role in WA agriculture, conventional growers near the spill site say the real threat of contamination still exists.
A road train carrying 22 tonnes of GM canola from the Cranbrook CBH receival site to Pinjarra caught fire after a seize in the front differential sparked a fire which melted a hole in the bottom of the lead trailer, causing canola to spill onto the road and into the gutter.
The accident couldn't have happened in a worse spot on the highway for a small group of farmers in the Williams region who have self-declared their properties GM-free.
"This spill highlights the complex network of legal responsibilities that need to be unravelled and understood given the introduction of GM canola into WA, Victoria and NSW," Safe Food Foundation director Scott Kinnear said.
"It also highlights this issue is between GM and GM-free and not just organic versus GM, as has been portrayed by some commentators."
He said the group of 12 GM-free grain growers, who were negotiating contracts with Japanese markets, had the right to know who was responsible for the cost of clean-up and monitoring, over what time frame the clean-up would take place and who would compensate them for loss and damage should their GM-free crops be contaminated and they incurred loss of income or clean-up costs on their land.
"It is possible the truck driver, the trucking company, CBH, the Department of Agriculture and Food and other parties may all have some legal liability for the cost of clean-up and monitoring over many years and for loss and damage should contamination cause loss of GM-free status and loss of income," Mr Kinnear said.
While it is understood a large vacuum cleaner was used to clean up some of the canola, Mr Kinnear said it was inevitable, given the size of the grain and the quantity involved, GM canola was still on the roadside.
The Safe Food Foundation retained Slater & Gordon Lawyers to provide legal advice and support to the local GM-free grain growers.
Williams GM-free grain grower Janette Liddelow and her family farm close to the accident site.
"We call on the State Government and Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman to immediately implement emergency spillage procedures including stringent quarantine, clean-up and long-term monitoring," she said.
"The GM giant Monsanto owns the GM canola seed so it must accept responsibility for this contamination and bear the costs of thorough, long-term remediation.
"This GM canola spill is our worst nightmare come true after only one season of the crop being grown in WA."
Ms Liddelow said the majority of farmers around Williams backed GM-free farming and the Williams Shire Council had asked the State Government not to lift the ban on GM canola but was ignored.
She said more than a dozen growers who farmed a combined 40,000 hectares in the area asked the State Government to remove the exemption from the law that allowed GM canola to be grown in Williams but Mr Redman refused the growers' request.
"We wanted our district declared a GM-free zone but he refused on the grounds it was too costly, time-consuming and complicated to administer," she said.
"We also recently asked for our area to be put on the new sensitive sites register which DAFWA established as a sop, to widespread grower demands for the protection of non-GM canola production and the premiums of up to $50 a tonne being paid for GM-free product."
Ms Liddelow said non-GM growers urgently needed farmer protection laws paid for by a levy on GM seed sales which would provide a fund to automatically pay the extra costs and losses that GM canola had brought to WA farming communities.
Williams grower Geoff Reed said he witnessed flocks of parrots feeding on the spilled canola seed outside his fence on the side of Albany Highway and claimed it had already started to germinate.
"My non-GM and no-chemical production systems are threatened by the GM seed spread by birds and humans," he said.
"The authorities and their contractors scooped up the GM canola seed spilled last week but they obviously didn't get it all."
He said a bobcat spread what was left of the spill on the roadside with soil and the GM seed had already started to germinate along a 50 metre stretch of the road.
"My neighbours and I wanted to stay GM-free but our worst nightmare is now outside our front gates," he said.
"We want real action not promises."
In a statement CBH said all appropriate protocols were followed to remove the grain and prevent any contamination in the safest manner possible.
It said CBH immediately deployed a crew to assess the risk and assist with the clean-up and a professional waste removal company was engaged to manage the task.
The bulk handler said the canola, as well as 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.
CBH also promised to work with DAFWA to monitor the surrounding areas for six to eight weeks.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Mick Murray said the State Government had not put in the necessary measures to prevent cross-contamination of non-GM crops and its GM experiment has failed,
"This accident has placed every nearby non-GM farm at risk of contamination," he said.
"Strong winds mean farms within many kilometres of the incident are also at risk.
"Only 12 months since the Barnett Government's GM experiment began, one farmer has already lost his organic status due to contamination from neighbouring farms and last week's incident has put many more in danger of the same situation."
Mr Murray said Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman previously stated local governments would wear the costs of clean up and monitoring due to truck spillages.
"If the Minister is true to his word, this incident could prove extremely expensive for the Williams Shire," he said.
"If he is not, farmers themselves now face the expensive and time consuming process of testing for traces of GM seeds and eradicating them from contaminated crops in the years to come.
"The Barnett Government has ignored repeated calls from Labor, the Williams Shire and farmers about the threat of contamination and its failure to act means local farmers will pay the potentially devastating price."