28/10/2005, ABC News

GE companies accused of contaminating seed

Greenpeace is accusing seed companies including Bayer of contaminating seed with genetically modified material to force Australia to accept the technology.

New tolerance levels have been set for canola seed, with GM tolerance levels set at 0.5 per cent for the next two seasons and 0.1 per cent after that. Greenpeace spokesman John Hepburn says the decision lets biotech companies off the hook. "To be honest, it probably sounds a slightly cynical view but it seems as though around the world GE companies have almost adopted a conscious strategy of contamination, to force acceptance of their product or adoption of their product," he said. "Contamination will continue to spread unless you put in strict controls and really push for zero contamination of seed."

Bayer CropScience has declined to comment on the Greenpeace allegations but says it welcomes the setting of a GM tolerance level. Meanwhile, Western Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Kim Chance, says there is no need to review that state's GM moratorium despite calls from farmers.

After another contamination discovery in the west this week, Western Australian Farmers Federation president Trevor de Langrafft wants an advisory group established to examine the moratorium. He says it has given the Government and industry breathing space but has now served its purpose.

Press Release by Greenpeace Australia, 25 October, 2005

Ag Ministers must act on GE contamination -Japanese consumers add voice

Agriculture ministers from all canola growing states face mounting pressure ahead of tomorrow's Primary Industries Ministerial Council meeting in Launceston, over the uncontrolled spread of genetically engineered canola contamination. Japanese consumers have added their voice to calls from farmers and environment groups about the need to find and eliminate the source of GE canola contamination and keep Australia GE free.

The Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative in Japan, which has 260,000 members and buys 1% of Australia's canola crop each year, has written to Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, urging him, "to take more strict measures to prevent seed contamination from genetic pollution, including stronger rules for field trials, and to ensure more strict identity preserved distribution."

The discovery of GE contamination in a Victorian farmer's field earlier this month is worrying farmers, consumer and environment groups who want to see the States protect their GE-free crop moratoriums.

Geoffrey Carracher, a Canola farmer from Wimmera, was devastated to find that his 64 hectare crop worth $48,000 was 0.5% contaminated with Bayer's Liberty Link gene. Alarmingly, the same 'Grace' seeds he purchased were also sold to farmers across three states: NSW, Victoria and South Australia, creating serious legal and financial problems for them.

"Any farmers who sowed Grace canola face the same risk and need to get their crop tested," said Mr Carracher, who is concerned about the legal minefield he is now exposed to.

"How will I keep my crop from contaminating my neighbours' crops? Will my contractors harvest my canola if it's known to be contaminated? If I can't harvest it, who will compensate me for the $48,000 it's worth?"

Greenpeace has proposed an action plan, sent to all State Agriculture ministers, that would address the current crisis. It includes: comprehensive testing of seed stocks; a farmer protection fund to cover farmers' costs, and strict liability for GE products, so that holders of the patent are held responsible for harm and contamination caused by their product.

"The GE canola contamination is a direct result of the incompetence and lack of care of the biotech companies," said Greenpeace GE campaigner John Hepburn. "They now want to convince us that we can be 'a little bit pregnant', but in reality any level of contamination threatens Australia's GE free status. Governments need to act fast to identify and eliminate any sources of GE contamination."

Greenpeace opposes the release of genetically engineered plants into the environment due to the unknown long term environmental and health impacts.