WA Minister Redman’s GM silence
By Sheshtyn de Souza
While Australians have been preoccupied with the cricket and what Elle Macpherson was wearing at this week’s Golden Globes, a more subtle (and arguably less attractive) debate has surfaced once again regarding genetically modified foods. With a Farmer Protection Bill to be introduced by the Greens early this year, Pyrmont Village contacted several politicians to ask them their views on genetically modified (GM) contamination and how they plan to protect Australian farmers and consumers from this threat. We did this as a follow-up to our story on WA farmer, Steve Marsh, who lost his organic status due to GM contamination in 2010. In the past few months we contacted several politicians, asking their views on genetically modified foods and contamination cases such as WA farmer Steve Marsh. We also asked the Greens to discuss their plan to introduce a Farmer Protection Bill, and what this means for GM and non-GM farmers.
While NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and WA Greens MP Lynn MacLaren were very obliging in answering our questions, WA Agricultural Minister Terry Redman declined to respond. Minister Redman is responsible for the WA government’s partnership with Monsanto through the crop breeding company InterGrain, and the increased production of GM wheat crops in that state. The email response from Minister Redman’s office is pasted below for your benefit, as are our full interviews with Minister Buckingham and Minister MacLaren. Pyrmont Village also contacted Monsanto’s Corporate Affairs Lead Keryn Mclean to ask about Monsanto’s position on GM contamination; she did not return our calls or email.
The following is the list of questions Pyrmont Village sent to Minister Redman (we thought they were pretty reasonable).
1) What do you think of WA farmer Steve Marsh’s situation, regarding the contamination of his organic farm?
2) How do you plan to protect non-GM WA farmers from GM contamination?
3) How do you plan to protect the rights of Australians who wish to eat non-GM food, considering the risks of contamination?
4) What is your opinion of the Farmer Protection Bill the Greens are planning to introduce to Parliament early next year?
5) Can you outline the tests that have been completed to ascertain the safety of genetic modification, and their conclusions?
6) Can you explain how links between Monsanto and your branch of government, creating a conflict of interest between big business and Australian citizens, is a fair partnership?
And this was Minister Redman’s response:
Hon. Terry Redman MLA, Minister for Agriculture and Food; Forestry; Corrective Services
Thank you for your email, dated 1 December 2011.
Please be advised the Minister does not wish to respond.
Office of the Minister for Agriculture and Food
So there you have it; Minister Redman has no interest in answering questions regarding his responsibility to his constituents or any role he has played regarding Steve Marsh and genetically-modified foods in WA. The following two interviews are with NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham and WA Greens MP Lynn MacLaren.
Jeremy Buckingham MLC, Greens NSW MP
Firstly, what do you personally think about Steve Marsh’s situation and the contamination of his farm?
I think it’s an outrageous situation that the liability does not lie with those who have caused the contamination. That’s why I will be introducing a bill into NSW Parliament called the Farmer Protection Bill that seeks to establish a fund. It will be funded by GM industries and people who are looking to grow GM crops. The fund will cover the cost of any liability or loss of market caused by GM contamination.
Do you think that the blame lies with the contaminating farmer or the company providing the seeds or with the government itself for not providing any legislation to protect the farmer?
I think that the blame lies first and foremost with the government. It’s their responsibility to regulate industry, and there is no proper regulatory regime that’s going to deal with contamination in broad acre crops in NSW. Secondly, the liability lies with the GM companies – it’s their product, they’re marketing it, and if it is contaminating non-GM farmers, the liability should rest with them.
What do you think is going to be the outcome of the Farmer Protection Bill and the fund is introduced, do you think that it is the most effective way of preventing contamination?
No, it’s not the most effective way of preventing contamination. The most effective way of preventing contamination is to not allow GM crops into the system in the first place. The Greens are opposed to these GM food crops, but if the government sees them as fit, they have to have a regulatory regime that protects non-GM farmers from the costs associated with running potentially a court case, and the cost for them if they lose their non-GM or organic status because of contamination.
So you think this fund will be a good incentive? Does that mean the GM farmer will be much more careful because of the costs if he does contaminate another farmer’s land?
There will be a cost. The levy will be paid by all GM farmers, they will be paying into that fund, and that certainly will put out an incentive for GM farmers and people who are handling GM grains to be far more careful with their product.
Regarding the whole issue surrounding GM, what do you think the future of GM looks like at the moment?
There’s a massive growth in GM broad acre grains across the globe. Australia has now gone down the path of GM wheat and there are trials underway. I think this is a major issue in NSW where we’ve already got GM canola, but we as a society really have to make a decision as to whether or not we want to allow GM wheat into our agricultural system. So there’s a big debate to be had, but at least recognizing the cost of contamination is the first bit, that’s what the bill does.
What do you think about the latest news that Nicola Roxon ruled against having proper labeling of GM products, saying it doesn’t need to be done because there are already strict rules in place ensuring all food is already tested as safe before it arrives in the supermarket? What do you think about proper labeling of GM products on supermarket shelves in NSW?
Food labeling when it comes to GM is woefully inadequate. There aren’t requirements for things to be declared as having GM content, and that’s woefully inadequate. More information for consumers is always good. We’ve always had concerns that the food safety standards and the testing in terms of health impact of GM have been inadequate. We don’t think that there’s been the rigorous testing that consumers and the society demand, and therefore we believe that those people who don’t want to eat GM food should have the opportunity to know what is and isn’t GM.
What can people do to change the lack of labeling, because it seems that no matter what kind of standards bodies advise that proper labeling of GM should be done, the ministers rule against it anyway, and this seems to be a trend all across Australia?
People can vote with their wallets. They can decide to buy local, buy green, buy organic. They can buy from producers who choose to label their products voluntarily as GM free. There are producers who do that – the organics industry – and they’re a mass growth sector in the economy and in agriculture. So people should vote with their wallets and use their consumer power to choose non-GM goods.
Hon. Lynn MacLaren MLC, Greens WA MP
What do you think about Steve Marsh’s situation, regarding the contamination of his farm?
What has happened to Steve Marsh is a real tragedy and demonstrates why the WA Government should never have allowed the introduction of GM canola without adequate protections in place for farmers.
What other effects have occurred following the introduction of GM on WA farmers?
Since the introduction of GM canola we have seen a premium of up to $50 per tonne develop for non-GM canola. In the last few years over 90 per cent of our canola has gone to Europe – a market with no tolerance for GM. Because of the contamination risk posed, the Minister for Agriculture and Food Terry Redman is jeopardising these markets by allowing GM canola to be grown.
What are some ways the current WA government could improve to protect the rights of farmers & consumers?
The Government needs to support Farmer Protection legislation to protect non-GM farmers from economic losses caused by GM contamination.
What do you think about the partnership between Monsanto and the WA government, particularly through InterGrain?
The CEO of Intergrain Bryan Whan has already admitted publicly that InterGrain will now be focusing on the development of GM rather than conventional crops. This is not in the best interests of either farmers or consumers.
What do you think about Terry Redman’s response to contamination, that what is considered ‘organic’ is too stringent and should be more flexible?
It’s appalling that Terry Redman is attempting to water down the organic standards because of a contamination problem that he has created. It also demonstrates what we have long suspected, that he doesn’t appreciate the organics industry. If GM contamination cannot be controlled GM crops should not be released.
Finally, what do you think is in the future for GM in Australia?
I think there is quite frankly no future for GM crops in Australia. Consumers don’t want them and the purported benefits such as drought and salt tolerance are more easily developed using other methods. The sole beneficiaries of GM crops are the GM crop companies who stand to make millions due to the patents associated with GM crops.