GRAIN farmers are being urged to submit their views to a political inquiry on crop biotechnology use in WA, to counteract potentially perverse outcomes with “facts”.
The inquiry by the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs was approved in December last year to investigate mechanisms for compensation for economic losses, caused by contamination by Genetically Modified (GM) crop material.
But WA Liberal Upper House member Jim Chown - a former Dalwallinu grain farmer - said farmers in WA need to understand there were potentially “adverse” and “perverse” outcomes, from the Committee’s inquiry, for current and future use of GM crop technology; not just in WA but also potentially nationally.
He said other farm stakeholders would be watching the inquiry’s progress with interest.
“I think it’s absolutely essential that growers take part in this inquiry and make submissions justifying their beliefs and showing the facts of their practical experiences in regards to using GM crops,” he said.
“If they don’t, there will be no way to counter the Green lobby which will no doubt be sending in hundreds if not thousands of pro-forma-like submissions.
“We need to guard against perverse outcomes.
“Otherwise the Committee will be overwhelmed by city-based submissions looking to exploit the emotional misinformation and fear about the use of GMs as opposed to the scientifically proven facts of GMs which have been declared safe for human health and the environment by every credible regulatory agency in Australia and around the world.”
Mr Chown said the inquiry was going ahead despite GMs being one of the safest forms of food ever used by the human race which have faced more checks and balances and regulatory scrutiny than any other food technology in history.
He said GM crops can also provide significant human health benefits but the technology’s potential is being held back and restricted by “fear based arguments that deliberately ignore scientific proof”.
“It’s just an emotional argument in relation to trying to establish this “compensation” fund and the anti-GM lobby will be looking to make a plethora of submissions which could lead to perverse outcomes that restrict the future of WA farming,” he said.
“I am calling on all commercial farmers to submit written submissions in regard to their experiences of growing GM canola in Western Australia otherwise this Committee will become nothing more than an anti-GM campaign on steroids.
“Unless growers become actively involved and let the Committee know about their positive experiences with using GM, recommendations could be made from this inquiry, and put forward to the parliament, which be adverse to the use of GM crops in the future, especially in regards to a compensation fund.”
Mr Chown said those pushing the inquiry’s underlying agenda - to establish a “compensation” fund for non-growers “contaminated” by GM crops - should also be careful of what they wish for.
He said an independent statutory review of the Commonwealth Gene Technology Act in 2005-06 looked at the compensation issue and concluded that the current common law provided effective remedies for anyone incurring any actual damage from GM crops.
But he said to legislate for such outcomes, would be “very biased and one sided” and those seeking to implement the compensation fund needed to be aware financial damages also applied to GM and conventional growers.
“I’ve had many, many reports of organic growers contaminating non-organic growers in regards to wheat incursions,” he said.
“I’m aware of a case at Morawa where a grower had to return a truckload of wheat from the CBH receival point because his wheat load was heavily contaminated with ergot which came from a ryegrass infestation from an organic grower who was a direct neighbour, after ryegrass seeds blew into the wheat crop.
“And of course, we know that ergot is a fungus that under certain climatic conditions grows on ryegrass and there’s no acceptable tolerance for it because it’s a dangerous hallucinogenic.
“If the Committee made recommendations to the Parliament that a compensation fund needed to be regulated or legislated in the form of a levy or otherwise on GM crops to defray financial loss occurred by non-GM growers through contamination, the question has to be asked in regard to significant legal implications of such one sided discriminatory legislation, when in reality organic farmers cause loss to non-organic farmers due to their lack of conventional weed control.”
The inquiry will include an investigation into the approaches taken in WA and by other jurisdictions - likely where the crop is already grown commercially in Australia and other major grain producing regions like the US and Canada.
Its terms of reference also include an examination of “any other relevant matter” which is likely to see strongly worded submissions made by conventional farmers - including those that produce GM canola - who have suffered economic damages from organic neighbours.
The Committee has not scheduled any public hearings as yet and is an “own motion inquiry” meaning a reporting date hasn’t been set – but the submission period remains open until February 16.