In December last year, Kojonup organic grain farmer Steve Marsh found genetically modified (GM) canola plants from a neighbouring farm had contaminated 293 hectares — 63% — of his property.
The farm in Western Australia’s Great Southern region is Australia’s first known case of GM canola contamination. Marsh has had his organic certification revoked as a result.
The Monsanto Round-Up Ready Canola was being grown on a neighbouring farm after a moratorium on growing GM crops was lifted a year ago by the WA Liberal government.
Marsh found that the GM canola had blown over a 1.5 kilometre swathe of his property, well beyond the flimsy 5 metre “exclusion zone” stipulated for GM crops under WA guidelines.
Marsh has launched legal action for the damage caused by the contamination, which has lost him the premium price for his crops.
GetUp!, which is supporting Marsh’s campaign, said: “Organic wheat sells at $500 to $800 more a tonne than regular wheat, and the fact that GM seeds remain viable for several years means that more than half his farm has been rendered useless.”
Marsh told AAP in December: "I am prepared to defend my livelihood and my choice, and the choice of many other non-GM farmers to produce a non-GM product."
Monsanto has announced that it will support the legal defence of the neighbouring GM farm.
The WA agriculture department has since confirmed the contamination, but the government has refused to help Marsh.
Instead, WA agriculture minister Terry Redman called on the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), Australia's organic certification body, to change its rules.
Redman attacked NASAA’s organic standards for not allowing GM contamination, and said that zero tolerance for GM in organic crops is "unrealistic".
In response, Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps has urged the state government to introduce new laws to protect organic farmers instead of tweaking GM thresholds, calling for automatic compensation for any farm contaminated with GM.
Greenpeace campaigner Laura Kelly also blamed the WA government for failing to protect farmers from GM contamination.
“This is a big green light to multinational chemical companies like Monsanto to contaminate WA farms, because there will be no legal or financial repercussion,” she told the December 23 Farm Weekly.
"WA consumers have lost their fundamental right to know if they are eating GM and foreign chemical companies will increase their control of WA’s food supply.”
Kelly also said that a Freedom of Information request has revealed that the WA government "isn't fulfilling its legal requirement to test food for GM contamination and ensure it is correctly labelled under Australian food standards".
Late last year, the federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved a four-year trial of Monsanto's newest GM canola strain in NSW, Victoria and WA, beginning in March.
[To view a video of Steve Marsh explaining what happened to his property, or to donate to his legal case against GM contamination, visit www.nasaa-wa.com.au ]