Unease among opponents of genetically modified crops has intensified after the State Government announced a review of laws that restrict the spread of GM technology.
Farmers and GM-free groups have raised concerns about the Government’s plans for the GM Crops Free Areas Act (2003).
The Act, introduced by the former Labor Government in 2003, saw a moratorium placed on GM crops.
However, the current Liberal-led Government amended the Act in 2009 to allow the State’s first GM canola trials.
Dowerin farmer Glenn Richards said the review was an excuse for the Government to allow other GM crops into WA.
“Varieties like GM wheat and barley – we just don’t think there is enough research into it,” Mr Richards said.
“We don’t know the long-term consequences of it, or the short-term.
“We’ve got a lot of markets that are … clean and green.
“That’s gone once you drop GM into the equation.”
Pastoralists and Graziers Association WA Western Graingrowers committee chairman John Snooke said he hoped the review would lead to the introduction of frost and drought-tolerant wheat.
Mr Snooke said frost and drought caused major production loss for farmers.
“We hope these varieties become part of the landscape in Western Australia to make farming businesses resilient to those two environmental factors,” Mr Snooke said.
Spokeswoman for GM Free Australia Alliance Janet Grogan said the review of the Act had shocked many people within the anti-GM movement.
Ms Grogan said her organisation was worried the Act’s removal was a “fait accompli”.
“We really feel this review has to be done in a transparent way involving all political parties, all stakeholders – including us [GM Free Australia Alliance],” she said.
“We think it’s very important to have the Act in place.”
WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said the review was necessary in order to assess GM canola production after several seasons of production.
“Last year more than 400 WA farmers planted about 168,000 ha of GM canola, which was successfully delivered and segregated,” Mr Baston said.
“This shows the industry can already handle both GM and conventional crops.
“It’s now time to question whether we still need this legislation to protect our markets or whether that can be better done through market forces.”
But Mr Richards said he had first hand experience of flaws in the segregation process. He said his ability to confidently enter into market agreements had been threatened after parts of his property were contaminated by GM canola.
“We [non-GM farmers] have a right to farm the way we want to,” he said.
“I don’t mind what you [GM farmers] do with your place.
“Just don’t force it on me.”
Mr Snooke, who produces GM canola on his Meckering farm, raised a motion to repeal the Act at a recent State Liberal Conference.
He said the Act needed to be rescinded because of the risks associated with a change of government.
“The feedback I’m getting…is that people want this technology,” he said.
“They don’t want that choice taken away … if Labor return to government.”
Mr Snooke said a verdict in a recent Supreme Court case was justification there were no issues with co-existence between GM and non-GM crops.
The case saw Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh unsuccessfully sue his neighbour Michael Baxter over the loss of his organic certification after GM canola contaminated his property.
“I believe [the verdict] will give the Government the confidence that the Act is redundant,” Mr Snooke said.
WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said serious doubts remained about the use of GM crops in Australia.
Senator Siewert said the Act was vital in protecting the rights of farmers who chose not to plant GM crops.
“The Greens are calling for the reinstatement of the moratorium on GM crops in WA,” she said.
“GM crops have not proven to be safe, nor have they been able to live up to the claims they can increase yields and reduce pesticide use.
“It is clear that non-GMO farmers such as Steve Marsh face significant financial impacts if their crops are contaminated.”
Photos: Matthew Jones