Ironbar wallops GM compensation

By Chris Thomson | posted on June 14, 2018

OUTSPOKEN former Federal MP Wilson Tuckey has condemned a Parliamentary inquiry into compensating farmers for economic loss from contamination of crops by genetically modified organisms.

In a written submission, the former MP for O’ Connor asks inquiry Chair, East Metropolitan MLC Matthew Swinbourn, to note his objection “to the underlying intention” of the probe.

Mr Tuckey, nationally known by the nickname ‘Ironbar’ , argues the inquiry – by State Parliament – seems to want to “override the outcome of a court case which ad- dressed the legal issues relating to this matter”.

Last year, Mr Swinbourn said a failed Supreme Court bid by Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh for compensation after alleged GM contamination of his non-GM canola farm was “in the background” but not the main motivation for the inquiry (‘GM compo probe begins’, December 14, 2017).

Mr Tuckey argues any compensation should not be based on breaches of standards developed by non-government organisations.

“Put simply, therefore, your committee must first decide the precedent and the standard which might be breached to warrant compensation and in this respect will you recommend the development of an International Standard for Cropping, or some form of Rafferty’s rules?” the 82-year-old poses.

“If it is your intention to move in the direction of protecting human health, might I point out that past rhetoric that made the case for banning the consumption of such genetically manipulated crops as labelling them ‘Frankenstein Food’ have been largely disproven by the extensive adoption of so-called genetic engineering of the human body and its reproductive processes in the pursuit of disease cures and the prevention of embryo abnormalities.

“Considering therefore that there is still no standards association body upon which to define an offence requiring compensation, and this issue thus relates to a matter of commerce, the question arises just how far would your inquiry’s recommendations extend and/or what precedents will be then established in unrelated areas.”

In the Howard Government, Mr Tuckey was Forestry and Conservation, then Regional Services Minister.

For 30 years – from 1980 until voted out in 2010 – he was the first and only MP for O’ Connor, a gigantic division encompassing much of the south and east of Western Australia, including the Great Southern.

“Does any modern day technological initiative that gives one business an advantage over a competitor warrant compensation to the loser?” his submission asks.

“Above all, and considering the size of most contemporary grain growing properties, surely the duty of care not to plant vulnerable crops adjoining a neighbour’s fence line resides with the farmer who chooses to grow such species, not the farmer who is just minding his own affairs and planting a legal crop.”

Mr Tuckey enquires if, hypothetically, a GM crop of high value were to be contaminated by a non-GM crop of lower value, the grower of the GM crop should be compensated.

On the flipside, Anne Jones – whose Gledhow Organics produces vegetables on a 4.5ha Albany property – tells the inquiry that any GM contamination above 1 per cent must be listed on the label of food products.

“For certified organic producers the impact is immediate and devastating; loss of certification and no choice to sell their produce as a conventional product at a greatly reduced price, significantly impacting on farm income and profit,” Ms Jones’ submission states.

“This submission proposes that any mechanism for the compensation for contamination of GMOs must proceed with the acceptance that the responsibility for the negative impacts of GMOs fall squarely to those producers and businesses that wish to benefit from them.

“Those businesses that grow and handle GMOs are the only ones capable of having control of them and, as such, must be accountable for their impacts.”

The inquiry is expected to report in early 2019.