6 April 2004

Farmers call for a rethink on Bayer´s GM trials

PARTICIPANTS in a Canowindra forum on Sunday have called on the NSW Government to reconsider its decision to approve a 420-hectare trial planting of genetically-modified canola. Last Thursday NSW Agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald rejected an application from Monsanto and Bayer CropScience for a joint trial over more than 3000 hectares, but allowed a smaller-scale trial to proceed.

However, about 70 people who attended the Canowindra forum, which looked at a range of issues to do with GM food crops trials, passed a motion urging Mr Macdonald to reconsider his decision. The motion was moved by Cudal farmer Lachie MacSmith and seconded by Toogong farmer Janet Price. It called on the Government to come into line with Western Australia, which last month banned all but small crop evaluation plantings, and to pursue only small-scale trials through an independent body, such as NSW Agriculture, to allow the risks and benefits of the technology to be publicly assessed.

The forum, which was organised by Federal Member for Calare Peter Andren, was attended mainly by farmers and agri-business people from the Canowindra, Cowra, Young, Cudal and Molong districts. Speakers included Colleen Ross, an executive officer with the Canadian National Farmers Union and solicitor Ian Dallin from the commercial law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Ms Ross told participants Canadian farmers were finding it hard to believe Australian farmers were contemplating growing GM canola. Referring to proposed trials in NSW, she said Canada's nine years of commercial GM canola production was the best trial reference for NSW farmers. She said there had been no yield benefit in growing GM canola.

Initially there had been some benefit in reduced inputs, particularly herbicides, but this had diminished and many farmers were now having to use much stronger herbicides because of a growing resistance to traditional, less potent varieties. Canadian farmers could no longer guarantee their crops were GM-free, she said, so all canola in Canada was sold as GM-canola.

Mr Dallin spoke of possible legal remedies that may be available to farmers whose crops became contaminated by GM canola. He said there was a gap in the legal and regulatory frameworks governing the approval and licensing of GM crops, which meant farmers would have to rely on common law remedies such as negligence, nuisance or trespass. Such cases could be lengthy and very costly, he said. Mr Andren said he did not oppose GM technology, but there were still many issues of uncertainty surrounding the technology.

By Mark Filmer