Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

GM Farmer Wins Landmark Court Case in Western Australia

By AusSMC

The Western Australian Supreme Court has dismissed an organic farmer’s claims for damages from his neighbour’s genetically-modified canola crop, which caused him to lose organic certification for more than half of his property for almost 3 years.

“The decision will give farmers surety that they can choose the crops they grow. The outcome is not about the safety of GM crops; it is more about the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia’s organic certification, which has a zero tolerance threshold for contamination in broadacre crops.

“We hope that the NASAA policy might be reviewed and brought in line with similar policies around the globe to support farmers wishing to grow crops for their niche markets. GM crops can be consistent with organic farming.

“In any event, there is no evidence whatsoever that GM crops are harmful. That is scientifically irrefutable.

Dr Andrew Jacobs is a Program Leader at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and a Senior Research Fellow at The University of South Australia.

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“The WA Supreme Court decision on the case of Marsh vs Baxter is a victory for common sense. The case was not really a local one, rather it was hijacked by anti-GM activists, and the opposition to GM crops is one based on politics and ideology rather than science.

“It is to be hoped that organisations that accredit organic farmers modify their rules to acknowledge that nothing in agriculture is 100% – if they adjust their rules to reflect those of similar accreditation bodies overseas to allow for small amounts of unintended presence of other seeds, then organic, conventional and GM crop farmers can all co-exist without the antagonism that this case has engendered.”

Mike Jones is a Professor of Agricultural Biotechnology and Director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University.

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“Contrary to some of the propaganda out there, this case was not about the public’s right to avoid (or choose) particular types of food products, nor was it about whether GM crops should be permitted or organic ones preferred. What remains a key ethical issue relating to public choice is the need for better labelling and information provision on both GM and non-GM foods, which is increasingly being demanded by consumers.

“An additional ethical issue relates to how farmers using different types of farming can co-exist and what their responsibilities are to each other, particularly where their production systems may be in apparent conflict.”

Professor Rachel Ankeny is a bioethicist in the School of History and Politics at the University of Adelaide. She has served on the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator’s Committees on ethics/community consultation and on the South Australian advisory committee on GM.