New Zealand food producers who are committed to producing safe, organic and GE-free foods will be scratching their heads over a Western Australian Court of Appeal decision this week.
Organic farmer Steve Marsh lost 70% of his organic certification because GE canola blew over from the neighbouring farm contaminated his crop. But the court ruled that the GE farmer was not liable – there was no obligation for them to “limit their farming activities on their own land so as not to interfere with that use of the appellant’s land.”
Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston used the court’s decision to push his pro-GE agenda once again. He commented that “genetic modification has been used extensively around the world, to the benefit of farmers and the environment”.
In making that statement, Mr Rolleston seems to have missed the news that a group of Hawkes Bay producers and their community have convinced the Hastings District Council to implement a 10 year ban on GE crops or trials in their region. The group, called Pure Hawkes Bay, produce hundreds of millions of dollars of product, and see being GE free as an important part of their business.
I have stayed on Steve Marsh’s farm, as I have another in Victoria that was contaminated by a waterborne GE crop during a big rain event. Contamination is inevitable once GE crops are in.
Mr Rolleston is disingenuous to suggest that the West Australian court ruling should somehow apply here. The court there found that farming GE canola according to ‘Standard Practice’ met ‘duty of care’. Marsh is left with no apparent recourse. Rolleston is happy about that, it seems; happy to have heavy herbicide-dependent cropping and GE food become the norm, over sustainable farming systems that make sense from both an economic and environmental viewpoint.
Mr Rolleston is suggesting that organic farmers should take the burden of care from protection from neighbouring GE crops should they ever happen here. However, what he chooses to miss is that conventional farmers choosing not to plant GE crops will also lose their price advantage over the lowest commodity price crop which is GE. Non-GMO is the fastest growing food label in the home of GE cropping, the USA, with organic behind that. Increasingly international consumers are reaching for non-GMO/GE.
In his comments, Mr Rolleston is dodging the massive and proven harm by the equally massive amount of pesticide that the crops are engineered or modified to resist or contain, but focusing on GE that has not been as well researched for safety, although there is increasingly independent evidence of harm from the unexpected outcomes from the genetic engineering in its own right. He seems to also miss the economic harm to the non-GE farmers whose own crops are contaminated. New Zealand farmers and consumers deserve honest facts, not spin.
New Zealand has a strong international advantage in our zero-tolerance to living genetically engineered organisms – such as seeds – and NZ organic standards such as BioGro share that zero tolerance. Pure Hawkes Bay and their council also recognise that advantage.
The only winners in a pro-GE farming world are the large agribusiness and chemical companies that control the IP, such as Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta, and wannabe PGG-Wrightson Seeds Ltd. These corporations do not have farmers, consumers or the environment’s best interests at heart, just profits from market share and product placement, even if it is a harmful herbicide or plant variety.
NZ farmers deserve choice, not contamination. GE removes choice. Organics, although vulnerable is a distraction from a much greater contamination issue, and a continued move to low value lowest commodity farming. While Federated Farmers may have a real membership of just 20% of New Zealand farmers according to Straight Furrow, it is very wrong to suggest it has some sort of mandate for farmer position, and even less if operating against an environmentally and economically sustainable future for New Zealand farming families.