WA UPPER House Liberal member and former grains farmer Jim Chown says anti-Genetically Modified (GM) crop activists are equal to Islamic State operatives, due to undue interference not only in legal farming systems, but also the courts.
In a speech last Thursday, using parliamentary privilege, Mr Chown doubled down on his questioning of anti-GM activities linked to the Marsh v Baxter legal test-case, to ventilate his concerns about the potential perverse outcomes of a current inquiry in the WA parliament into a proposed compensation fund for non-GM farmers.
It was the continuation of a speech form the previous day where the Agricultural Region representative alleged the GM canola swaths – which triggered the long-running legal fight in the WA Supreme Court – had arrived on Steve Marsh’s organic farm at Kojonup in late 2010, from his neighbour Mick Baxter’s property, via a “fraudulent act” by “a person or persons unknown” and not natural causes.
He referred to a confidential report that wasn’t presented at trial but compiled by the WA Agriculture Department after officials visited and inspected the Marsh property Eagle Rest after the incursion was reported, which contained pictures of un-shattered canola pods attached to the GM swaths in question; despite the “fragile” and ripened plants having travelled up to 1.2 kilometres.
In his second speech, Mr Chown extended his attack by referring to an article published in Fairfax Media that revealed the damning content of emails obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in the US.
He said that exchange substantiated his claim that anti-GM activists were like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) due to failed efforts to “fabricate evidence” regarding the scientific efficacy of GM canola, to present in the legal test-case, that Mr Baxter ultimately won conclusively.
“It is now patently obvious that the anti-GM movement and its supporters are bereft of any morals and will take any action, whether it is legal or otherwise, to pursue its ideological stance against an agricultural crop that is grown over billions of acres worldwide, a crop that has justifiably been scientifically scrutinised and peer-reviewed to the point at which today it is without fear as the safest form of food that the human population on this planet has ever produced,” he said.
“These anti-GM activists are, in effect, the equivalent of ISIS operatives.”
Mr Chown said the article published on October 13, 2015 showed an email exchange between WA organic food entrepreneur George Kailis and US agricultural research professor Dr Charles “Chuck” Benbrook, of which he read out various relevant excerpts to the parliament.
“In communications with Dr Benbrook released in the FOI trail, Mr Kailis suggested $1.5 million had been provided to boost Mr Marsh’s legal case in the WA courts, against his neighbour Mike Baxter,” he said.
“In his reply email, Dr Benbrook told Mr Kailis he would charge $200 per hour to be an expert witness in the Marsh case.
“He also warned about going down the ‘academic route’ but could ‘ramrod’ the proposed research that would question the safety of GMs.”
Mr Benbrook was a leading character in the ‘Food Evolution’ documentary that contrasts and questions traditional media portrayals of pro-GM and anti-GM proponents, in view of ‘scientific truth’ or viewpoints.
Mr Chown said further on in the email trail, Mr Kailis asked what the costs and outcomes would be of choosing the ‘ramrod path’ of four to eight months.
“Dr Benbrook’s reply said, ‘Off the top of my head, if I am the ramrod, I would need full control of process and right to be a slave driver/dictator, and at least $100k, and probably will regret promising to do it for that amount’,” Mr Chown stated.
“When this became public, a senior university lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Dr David Tribe, said that the email exchange showed that there was a public relations plan to produce a predetermined outcome on the efficacy of genetically modified crops, not a scientific one.
“Dr Tribe also said the email exchange showed Mr Kailis had a global network of anti-GM and pro-organic connections he was working with.
“But he said it was ‘curious’ that despite this network of allies, including the Safe Food Foundation, they were unable to find a solitary witness who was able to testify at the Marsh v Baxter court case, and give evidence, proving GMs are unsafe.”
Mr Chown also quoted Dr Tribe’s statement in the article saying that there was a “worrying departure from open-minded scientific investigation” due to a “dollars for the findings we need playbook”.
“In fact, members, this is more proof that the anti-GM people are more than prepared to pay for and fabricate evidence for a trial,” he said.
Mr Chown said not only did somebody who sympathised with the anti-GM cause “actually place plants on Baxter’s property, but also they are prepared to mess with the legal system, not just the farming system”.
“They want to play God, which is a gross contradiction of the ideological viewpoint they have against GMs - that is, that GMs are not natural - yet they do not like the natural legal outcomes of the common law process of this state,” he said.
“I say again that these people should not be held in high regard at all and should be considered unworthy of consideration in any debate due to the lengths that they are prepared to go to.
“What is more worrying is the fact that a committee is looking into an issue that is predicated on the GM trial of Marsh v Baxter.
“I ask why this particular inquiry is taking place, on the evidence presented over the last two nights.
“I understand that the inquiry is underway and I certainly hope that members of the committee look at Hansard with regard to this matter that I have addressed on two occasions and take it into consideration.”
Chown claims “ridiculous”, say Greens
But Greens South West region MLC Diane Evers said Mr Chown’s various claims about the Marsh v Baxter were “outrageous and preposterous”.
“This is a matter that has gone through the courts and it is ridiculous that he is raising the things he is suggesting now,” she said in a statement to parliament last week.
“It makes no sense.
“It represents the sort of archaic thinking that he must believe in.”
Ms Evers said “This is not a war; this is a discussion”.
“It is just outrageous that Jim Chown would suggest that somebody would do something like that; the idea of a person going to court and putting their life, their finances and their families through that is too much,” she said.
“A person could not do that in the way Jim Chown was suggesting and I find it preposterous - I cannot believe he can get away with saying such things.”
Ms Evers said Mr Chown also did a “disservice” to the Department of Agriculture and Food by tabling its confidential document in parliament and “thus making it public and reading words into it that are not there”.
“It was a document that was clearly written for a court case - it was clearly written to state things fact by fact, but Jim Chown, by way of innuendo, suggested there was more to it,” she said.
“It was unfortunate, wrong and highly distasteful.
“I cannot understand how someone can get away with that, but I am learning.
“Why fight now with those words, to try to get us all emotional about an issue that is about science?
“It is not an emotional issue; it is about facts.
“We are trying to work out what is right and what is wrong and go forward with it.
“It just does not appeal to me to have this emotional stuff brought in here to make us all doubt and wonder.”
Ms Evers said the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs inquiry had nothing to do with the previous (Marsh v Baxter) case which had raised is that the court system was “not set up to deal with things like this”.
She said the legal test-case was “a big waste of plenty of resources that went on for a long time and “did not resolve anything”.
“In fact, some of the submissions to the inquiry, which are all publicly available, are coming back with legal information on them,” she said.
“We need to find the facts and we need to work out how we can manage this so that one farmer is not financially hurt by the actions of his neighbour.
“Farmers do not want to go to court with their neighbours.
“They live beside them, they live in the same community and they share the same community resources and the same family, friends, churches and schools.
“I hope that the inquiry may resolve this and that we may look into these issues using facts, not emotions, and keeping it rational to find the best response possible.
“I will just leave members with a four-lined quote, and I will leave it with Jim Chown to remember the last line, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you’.”
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