THE lifting of bans on genetically modified (GM) canola in NSW and Victoria will trigger a landslide of lawsuits from producers, Australia’s largest organic farming body said today.
The warning follows concerns from the nation’s largest publicly-listed food company that the axing of the bans will damage Australian exports to Europe.
The NSW and Victorian governments this week ended bans on GM canola crops, which are resistant to the widely used pesticide glyphosate.
Up until now, Queensland has been the only state in Australia where farmers were allowed to grow GM canola.
Scientists and farmers’ groups applauded the move from the southern states, arguing GM canola was more environmentally sustainable, drought-resistant and better yielding than regular crops.
The Australian Greens and organic farming groups have slammed the decision, arguing canola is such a small grain, contamination via the wind, farming equipment and insects is inevitable.
Food manufacturer Goodman Fielder, which owns brands such as Meadow Lea, White Wings and Pampas, lobbied against lifting the bans.
Biological Farmers of Australia is the largest organic farming group in the nation and represents farmers, retailers, wholesalers and exporters.
Its subsidiaries oversee the certification of about 70 per cent of Australia’s organic products.
Spokesman Scott Kinnear said he had no doubt there would be a string of law suits from non-GM and organic farmers next year, following contamination of their produce.
“It is one of the most promiscuous crops out there in terms of pollen flows,” he told AAP.
“It is inevitable that there is going to be contamination.
“It will lead to litigation – there is no doubt at all in my mind.”
Contamination will occur not just between GM canola to regular canola but from GM canola to other types of grains, Mr Kinnear said.
Mr Kinnear warned unlabelled GM canola oil would flood the market.
He said governments had ignored the health risks linked to GM foods, which contain ingredients that can turn genes on and off.
A study in Russia where rats were fed GM soy found the animals had a high infant mortality rate, and their offspring were sterile and much smaller than the non-GM soy control group, Mr Kinnear said.
“It is really alarming that these sorts of adverse reactions have been found but not been followed up,” he said.
“There is the potential there for really serious things to go wrong.
“Why would you want to take that risk with your family and your kids?”
Greens GM spokeswoman Rachel Siewert said it was not possible to segregate GM and traditional crops and non-GM farmers would unfairly be cut out of the European and Japanese markets.
“They have taken choice away because now non-GM farmers will be shut out of markets because if markets truly don’t want GM material, they just won’t be buying from Victoria and NSW because of the risk of contamination,” she told AAP.
Goodman Fielder wrote to state premiers and ministers for agriculture.
“Goodman Fielder is of the view that, in a world of ever-increasing globalisation, Australia’s current status as a GM-free crop producer gives the country an essential international competitive advantage that it would be counter-productive to place in jeopardy,” chief executive Peter Margin wrote.
“It is our view that the alleged economic advantages of growing genetically modified crops will be more than negated by our weakened market positioning and inevitable lower financial returns.
“In this context it should be emphasised that European markets continue to be reliant on non-genetically modified crops and that these markets would be expected to be closed to Australian grain should our current non-GM status change.”