Australia's largest farmers' group supports ban on GM crops/GM food worries grow in Canada/GM food ban would be 'illegal' - Meacher (19/5/2003)

19 May 2003

Australia's largest farmers' group supports ban on GM crops/GM food worries grow in Canada/GM food ban would be 'illegal' - Meacher

some items shortened:
1.Australia: farmers support NSW stay on GM canola
2.UK: GM food ban would be 'illegal'
3.Canada: GM food worries grow
4.UK: Concerns over GM crop liability
5.Thailand: Copyright decision draws farmers' ire
6.USA: Genetic seed rules sprout
7.Saskatchewan farmer in battle with Monsanto star of Biodevastation

1.Australia farmers support NSW stay on GM canola
Reuters, AUSTRALIA: May 19, 2003 http://www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20829/story.htm

SYDNEY - Australia's largest farmers' group welcomed a three-year ban on commercial genetically modified (GM) food crops in the state of New South Wales.

The New South Wales (NSW) government said it would introduce legislation next week to impose the moratorium before the federal Gene Technology Regulator approved a commercial release of GM canola.

Australia is now half-way through an eight-week public consultation period on the commercial release of GM canola after an April 1 clearance by the federal regulator.  State governments, however, have the power to ban GM crops in their jurisdictions. The NSW ban means Australia will not produce a significant GM canola crop this year even if federal authorities clear the way for it to do so.

A moratorium on the commercial release in NSW of GM food crops such as canola, mustard and field peas is effective from March 2003, said NSW Agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald. Cotton crops will be exempt.  The NSW Farmers Association said it supported the postponement of any general release of GM canola until segregation and trade issues were all addressed.
2.GM food ban would be 'illegal'
BBC News, 19 May 2003
The UK Government is sponsoring a review of GM science

The government says it may be forced to allow farmers to grow genetically-modified (GM) crops in Britain even if the public does not want them.  The environment minister Michael Meacher told the BBC a ban on GM crops would be illegal unless there is scientific proof that they harm people or the environment.

The latest polls show only 14% of people in Britain approve of GM food.  But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today that public opposition alone would not influence the government's decision.  "We have to act in accordance with the law," he said on Monday.  "The law at the present moment is set down in a EU directive and the key and sole criteria for taking action with regard to GM crops is: Are they a harm or risk to the environment?"

'No evidence'

 Later this year the government will decide whether to license commercial GM crops.  Scientists investigating the effects of GM crops on the government's behalf have yet to find they cause harm.

Two weeks ago, the Royal Society said there was no evidence eating GM foods was any different from eating naturally produced food.  A senior member of the society said the public had been frightened by "unsubstantiated claims".  A widespread public consultation on the issue is due to begin in two weeks.

Crops attacked

 On Sunday, protesters cut down a GM crop in Fife. The rapeseed crop was the second in a week in Scotland to be attacked.  A spokeswoman for the protesters said: "It expresses people's serious fears for the safety of public health, for consumers' right to choose GM-free food and their fears of a long-term environmental catastrophe."  Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth said Mr Meacher's comments showed the government would ignore the public "if it felt like it".
3.GM food worries grow in Canada
this document web posted: Friday May 16, 2003
By Sean Pratt
Saskatoon newsroom http://www.producer.com/articles/20030515/market_quotas/20030515mkt02.html

Consumers in the European Union are not alone in their mistrust of genetically modified food. A recent study shows Canadians are becoming "increasingly cautious" when it comes to biotech goods.  A survey of 1,500 Canadians conducted by researchers at the University of Calgary found little appetite for GM food.  "While much of the processed foods on our grocery store shelves contain GM ingredients, Canadians are hardly enthusiastic about them and a substantial minority - about four in 10 - are definitely uncomfortable about it," said Edna Einsiedel, professor of communications studies at the U of C.
4.Concerns over GM crop liability
Source: Farmers Weekly interactive 14 May 2003
By Tom Allen-Stevens

 BRITISH growers would leave themselves open to unlimited liability and huge legal costs if they sign up to genetically modified crops under the same terms as US growers.  According to senior National Farmers' Union legal adviser Robert Madge, Monsanto's US grower contracts would be unacceptable under English law.

In particular the biotech giant, which could commercialise crops in the UK as early as 2004, limits its liability under the US agreement to just the cost of the seed.  This would mean that whatever losses a grower incurred by growing the crop, and whoever was to blame, a seed refund would be all he could reclaim from Monsanto.

"This would include claims based on negligence on Monsanto's part," said Mr Madge.  "Exclusion clauses as wide as that are unacceptable under English law."

But growers who violate the agreement have to suffer all the related costs Monsanto bears as a consequence.  "The contract allows Monsanto to recover all its legal costs," said Mr Madge.  "But under English law costs are decided by the court and the winner is seldom awarded full costs."

Mr Madge pointed out that it is very difficult to assess a UK grower's potential legal position from a contract written under the law of a different country.  "But Monsanto is not under any obligation to consult the NFU before introducing these grower agreements and as far as I know have made no attempt to do so."  He also pointed out that no UK insurance company is currently prepared to provide cover for GM crop insurance.
5.Copyright decision draws farmers' ire
The Nation, Thailand
Published on May 17, 2003 http://www.nationmultimedia.com/page.arcview.php3?clid=5&id=78833&date=2003-05-17&usrsess=1

Farmers' rights advocates yesterday blasted a decision by a government committee to provide intellectual property rights to seeds used in local crops, saying it favoured the interests of multinational seed companies.  An open letter to Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob demanded that the plant protection committee decision be revoked.

The committee, chaired by Agriculture Ministry deputy permanent secretary Sima Morakul, recently agreed that the seeds for 12 commonly grown crops - including tomato, chilli, cucumber, cowpea, soybean, corn and morning glory - be granted intellectual property rights as proposed by the Seed Association of Thailand.

"All 12 seeds are bred by multinational companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer. I don't understand why the government committee wants to protect their interests rather than the rights of our farmers," said Daecha Siribhat, director of the Kwan Khao Foundation, a non-government organisation (NGO). that works to protect local rice varieties and farmers' rights.

Small-scale farmers said they would hold a large rally in Chiang Mai on Friday if deputy minister Newin ignored them, said Decha.

Intellectual property rights for seeds are provided for by Article 33 of the 2000 Plant Variety Protection Act.

Daecha's protest yesterday was also joined by Witoon Lienchamroon, director of Biothai, another NGO that works for the rights of small-scale farmers. Witoon said that if the 12 plant varieties were protected by property rights, the companies with the rights would be able to deny Thai farmers the right to cultivate their own seeds for future crops. Witoon is also a member of the plant protection committee, but said that the controversial decision was made while he was not present.  "Instead of trying to protect seed strains developed by multinational companies, the committee should try its best to protect local and native plant varieties so that the intellectual property rights belong to the Thai public," said Witoon.

However, another committee member who declined to be named said that the decision did not apply exclusively to multinational companies.  "Intellectual property rights are not reserved for only multinational companies; local farmers are eligible also. If they develop a new plant variety they can apply with the committee to provide protection for their rights to it," said the committee member.
6.Genetic seed rules sprout in Vt. fee bill
May 16, 2003
By DAVID MACE Barre Montpelier Times Argus http://timesargus.nybor.com/Story/65565.html

 MONTPELIER - The Vermont Senate has passed a bill raising fees for everything from filing for divorce to driving an oversize truck through the state - but not before attaching a provision that would require the labeling and registration of genetically modified seeds.  The measure, added by the Senate Finance Committee, mirrors a bill that passed the Senate earlier this session but that has been languishing in a House committee where opponents of the bill have effectively bottled it up.

"I think this is a bill that's important to the Senate, it's important to a lot of people in Vermont," said Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee. "And it's been buried in the House. It's an important issue and we don't want it buried."

The bill would require that genetically modified seeds be labeled as such, and that companies selling such seeds to Vermont farmers must register the sales with the state Department of Agriculture. Currently, the state requires registration of all seed sales of 10 pounds or more.

Backers have touted the measure as one that gives farmers information about the seeds they are buying and allows the state to track them. Opponents said the measure is unnecessary and questioned the motives of the measure's backers.
7.Saskatchewan farmer in battle with Monsanto star of Biodevastation conference
May 19 http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/030516/w051652.html

 ST. LOUIS (CP) - At 72, lifelong Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser never dreamed he'd be the poster boy in what he calls a worldwide struggle for farmers' rights and autonomy.  But five years and $200,000 in legal fees later, the Saskatchewan farmer said he will go down fighting St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. for the right of farmers to plant seed saved from one growing season in the next.

Schmeiser barely had heard of Monsanto before 1998, he said Friday at the Biodevastation 7 conference in St. Louis, a three-day gathering of opponents of genetic engineering.  He and his wife had scratched out a good life on 567 hectares in Western Canada as farmers and canola seed developers, saving seeds from high-yield harvests year to year, as growers have for centuries.

That year, Schmeiser was sued in federal court by Monsanto for raising herbicide-resistant canola from its genetically modified seed, which the company said is a violation of its patent rights. The suit would cost the couple their life savings and 25 years of seed research, Schmeiser said. Monsanto said canola plants grown from its genetically altered seed had grown along a ditch on the Schmeiser farm in violation of the company's patent. Schmeiser contends the GM seed blew off a truck or came from someone else's field but Monsanto argued that's impossible. Schmeiser said he never bought Monsanto seed.

In May 2001, a judge ruled for Monsanto, saying it didn't matter how the genetically modified plant ended up on Schmeiser's property - bees, birds, wind or transport - it became Monsanto's property. Schmeiser said he had to forfeit his profits from his 1998 crop and was forbidden from using his plants or seed again because they were contaminated.

Shannon Troughton, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, said Friday no one forces farmers to choose the company's seed; farmers choose it because it meets their economic and environmental needs. She said 300,000 U.S. growers and 30,000 in Canada abide by the terms of using Monsanto seed and the company prefers settlements over going to court

An appeals court later upheld the 2001 decision. Last week, however, Canada's Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, a move Schmeiser said could have "tremendous implications" for Monsanto and farmers worldwide.

He said the Canadian high court in December ruled Harvard University could not patent a higher-life form, in its case, a mouse it had genetically engineered. If the court follows that line of reasoning, Schmeiser said, there's a chance Monsanto will lose its ability to patent seed in Canada, a ruling countries elsewhere could follow.

Monsanto Canada spokeswoman Trish Jordan said the court's decision will be a costly one for both Schmeiser and the company but Monsanto is prepared to defend its position to the end.  "We will continue to follow the case for the next 12 to 14 months," Jordan said.  "It would have been good if it was over today from our perspective but we'll keep going."

At issue are the patent rights to Roundup Ready canola, a genetically modified strain resistant to a herbicide that would normally kill the plants used to produce cooking oil.  Monsanto charges farmers a fee of about $30 a hectare to use the seeds. About 20,000 farmers across the country planted the seeds in 2000. Those crops covered between about 18 million and 20 million hectares and accounted for about 40 per cent of Canadian canola production.

Schmeiser said he has garnered moral and financial support for his cause internationally.  "Otherwise, I couldn't do it," he said.  "What farmer can take on a multibillion-dollar company like Monsanto?"

The case has become a cause celebre in Western Canada and has attracted attention in other countries, making Schmeiser something of a folk hero among farm and consumer activists who worry about the spread of genetically modified crops and the economic clout of the companies that hold patents for them. Angela Rickman, campaign co-ordinator with the Sierra Club of Canada, said the environmental group will be watching the case closely.  "It's very important for small farmers, not just in Canada but around the world, who are really concerned with the ability of multinationals to patent what was previously considered to be the genetic common," she said from her home in Ottawa.

Go to a Print friendly Page

Email this Article to a Friend

Back to the Archive