If you are one of over 60 per cent of people who buy certified organic food because it’s been grown free of genetically modified material, rest assured the outcome of the Western Australian court case shouldn’t undermine your confidence in certified organic produce.
On May 28 the Western Australian Supreme Court rejected certified organic farmer Steve Marsh’s bid for compensation. Marsh attempted to sue his neighbour Michael Baxter for GM contamination on his property in 2010.
Steve Marsh was not growing the same crop (canola) as his neighbour and therefore (despite GM seed found growing on his property) genetic contamination of his cereal crops was highly unlikely.
However, the court’s decision highlights the difficulties legislation has in keeping up with new technologies.
Australian Organic wants to see a review of the laws and related codes affecting GM production to protect the interests of all farmers. Underpinning the code of practice for GM growing with legislation would help prevent issues like this happening in future. Increasing land buffer zones between properties and changing harvesting practices would help to reduce genetic contamination risks.
Chair of Australian Organic, Dr Andrew Monk, says, “Unfortunately there are two losers in this case. It’s really sad to see two neighbours go to court when there should have been enough precautions in place before crops were even put in the ground.
“Unfortunately GM technology has imposed some significant additional risk management and testing requirements on the organic sector. GM testing has joined the ranks of the pesticide and herbicide tests that we already do.”
The court decision does not change the fact that many shoppers don’t want to eat foods that contain GM materials. Australian Organic will continue to stand by the Australian Certified Organic Standard, which prohibits the use of GM materials.
Organic food gives people a choice about what they eat. Dr Monk says, “Growing food without synthetic chemicals, without cages and without the use of hormones, antibiotics and GM is not an ideology – it’s a right that all farmers should naturally have, and in farming this way they’re meeting consumer expectations.”
According to IBISWorld, organic farming is one of the Australian economy’s best-performing agricultural industries and due to consumer demand it’s expected to grow by 50 per cent over the next five years.
The Australian Organic Market Report 2012 shows 62 per cent of organic consumers buy organic because it’s non-GM. Despite some countries accepting permissible levels of adventitious GM contamination, the international marketplace – particularly our key markets, Korea and Japan – generally demands organic products to be non-GM.
“It’s not ideological to meet consumer expectations, it’s good business sense,” says Dr Monk.
Click here to read a response from Australian Organic to its members and clients of Australian Certified Organic.