MPs square off over GM compo inquiry

By Chris Thomson | posted on June 23, 2018

WHETHER farmers of non-genetically modified crops should be compensated for contamination by growers of GM plants is a bone of contention between two politicians whose electoral regions together span the entire Great Southern.

In her submission to a Parliamentary inquiry into ways of compensating farmers for loss caused by GM material, Greens WA MLC for South West Diane Evers recommends that a compensation fund, cashed up by GM seed merchants, be established.

Ms Evers argues it is “imperative that appropriate protection is provided for GM-free growers as soon as possible, so that they can confidently exercise their democratic right to farm as they see fit”.

She asserts that more than 28 countries in the European Union – including Germany and France – have bans on growing GM crops, and many also ban GM imports.

“In South Australia, of course, the Greens secured legislation to extend the moratorium on growing genetically modified crops until September 2025,” she submits.

“However, in the absence of a ban, a package of measures – with a farmer protection fund as a centrepiece – should be developed to ensure that Western Australia can reliably supply GM-free produce to global markets, and has a reputation for being able to do so.”

Ms Evers cites a WA Government report she says acknowledges is it not possible to eliminate the risk of GM contamination.

“The court case involving Kojonup farmers Steve Marsh and Michael Baxter, in which it was decided that [Mr Baxter] growing a genetically modified crop was not liable for economic loss suffered by his neighbour’s loss of organic certification when GM seeds escaped and established on [Mr Marsh’s] farm, demonstrates the need for dispute resolution to avoid expensive legal cases, and for a mechanism that helps to avoid dispute in the first place,” she opines.

Ms Evers recommends that consideration be given to introducing an alternative dispute resolution service for farming communities where GM crops are grown.

But Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (WA) MLC for Agricultural Region Rick Mazza argues that current Commonwealth and State laws are adequate to resolve significant disputes.

“There should be no need to add to it and further complicate regulatory matters for Western Australian farmers,” his submission states.

He notes the Marsh v Baxter case provides the “only reliable factual evidence on economic loss suffered by farmers in Western Australia caused by contamination from GM material”.

“From a legal point of view, Mr Baxter’s lawful use of his own land did not constitute a wrongful interference with Mr Marsh’s use or enjoyment of his land,” he declares.

“Further, Mr Marsh was deemed to have put his land to an abnormally sensitive use and he could not unilaterally enlarge his own rights and impose limitations on his neighbours to a greater extent than would otherwise be the case.”

In another submission, University of Western Australia Professor of Agriculture Kadambot Siddique says there has been “no visible impact from the introduction of GM canola in Western Australia”.

“Growing both types of crops is possible on the same farm, because the two types of canola seed, GM and non-GM, are marketed separately in national and international markets,” he submits.

“Therefore, it is unclear what the parliamentary committee will investigate.”

Professor Siddique advises there is no evidence of loss to non-GM growers in WA.

“In fact, the opposite occurs – non-GM growers are favoured by higher prices for non-GM product that meets the EU standards …,” he states.

“The use of GM technology has been, and will continue to be, very valuable to help feed the world and improve the economy of Western Australia.

“GM canola growers and non-GM canola growers have learned to live together, and will continue to do so as new GM products are approved through the federal regulatory system.”

The inquiry is expected to report in early 2019.