Current GM crop systems adequate: inquiry

Headshot of Jenne Brammer
Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
A parliamentary inquiry into compensation for non-GM farmers concluded the current law-based system was adequate.
Camera IconA parliamentary inquiry into compensation for non-GM farmers concluded the current law-based system was adequate. Credit: Jo Fulwood

Genetically modified canola is likely to be more widely adopted across WA in coming years after a parliamentary report concluded the existing system of compensation for affected non-GM farmers was adequate.

The Legislative Council panel’s report said there was insufficient evidence to justify changing the common law mechanism for compensation.

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she agreed with the committee’s observation, so changes to the laws would not be a priority.

WAFarmers grains committee chairman Duncan Young said GM technology, which already represented about 33 per cent of canola plantings in the State, could now realise its potential.

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He said the inquiry’s conclusion, combined with the repeal of GM crop legislation in 2016, removed the angst of a lot of farmers over using the technology, and provided a green light to proceed with confidence.

CropLife Australia chief executive Matthew Cossey said more growers could make a choice about growing GM crops without the threat of a costly and unnecessary compensation scheme hanging over their head.

Triggered by a FoodWatch WA petition and tabled by Greens MLC Diane Evers, the inquiry started two years after Kojonup organic farmer Steve Marsh unsuccessfully sued his neighbour Mike Baxter, alleging GM canola contamination.

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps called the report “toothless” and vowed to continue campaigning for a no-fault

compensation fund to pay people for proved economic losses and harm.

“The committee concluded that a single case, Marsh v Baxter, was not sufficient to conclude the existing common law compensation mechanism is inadequate to compensate non-GM farmers,” a statement from the legislative council said.

The committee, chaired by Labor MLC Matthew Swinbourn, said there was a lack of significant evidence of GM contamination in WA, or evidence presented to the committee of actual economic loss to farmers caused by GM contamination.

There was also a lack of decertification of organic farms or other actions taken by organic certification bodies resulting from GM contamination, other than in the Marsh v Baxter case, and claims under insurance policies providing for cover against GM contamination.

It was also noted in the report the handling practices of Co-operative Bulk Handling ensured ensured there has been no loss of markets due to contamination.

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