GM canola opposers were muzzled, says expert committee (27/3/2008)

1.Legal first for anti-gm lobby group

2.GM canola opposers were muzzled, says expert committee

3.Farmers prepare for legal fight over GM


1.Legal first for anti-gm lobby group
ABC News, 25/03/2008

A lobby group opposed to genetically modified crops has drawn up a form legal letter, for farmers who want to keep GM crops out of their district.

Australia's Network of Concerned Farmers says any farmer wanting to stay GM-free can send the letter to neighbouring properties, threatening legal action if there's any contamination from GM crops.

[For more on this see item 3]


2.GM canola opposers were muzzled, says expert committee

This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

GM canola opposers were muzzled, says expert committee PM - Thursday, 27 March 2008

Reporter: Ashley Hall

MARK COLVIN: Two expert advisers to the New South Wales Government have accused the Government of gagging dissent in its rush to authorise the planting of genetically modified crops.

The State's Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald approved the commercial production of GM canola about two weeks ago on the recommendation of the Government's Expert Committee on Gene Technology.

But two of its members say the committee is stacked with proponents of GM crops who have downplayed and marginalised the dissenting members' concerns. And the pair say they could be risking a jail sentence by speaking out.

Ashley Hall reports.

ASHLEY HALL: When the State Government effectively lifted its moratorium on genetically modified crops, it convened an expert committee to assess applications from would-be growers.

The committee has now given the go-ahead for the planting of genetically modified canola.

But not everyone on the committee agrees with the decision. The environmental scientist Jo Immig is one such dissenting voice.

JO IMMIG: The representatives that are currently on the committee, I think, when you look into them and look into their background and their public positions on genetic engineering, are quite clearly very pro-GE people. And it's hard to imagine that the committee would come up with any other outcome other than to eventually approve, or suggest to the Minister that he approve the genetically modified canola.

ASHLEY HALL: Jo Immig says her views were sidelined throughout the committee process so they were never presented to the Minister.

JO IMMIG: It's a subtle process that often occurs, for anyone who's been on a committee, where you see that the sorts of concerns that you're raising somehow get watered down in between you raising them on the committee and the advice eventually finding itself to the minister.

And that's the sort of thing that I'm talking about - that key concerns that were raised on the committee by certain members who had concerns didn't necessarily, those concerns didn't necessarily get reflected in their entirety to the Minister.

ASHLEY HALL: The legislation that established the committee also imposed strict confidentially requirements on its members. Anyone found talking about the applications could be sent to jail.

JO IMMIG: So it essentially meant that anything in relation to this application to grow genetically modified canola, an issue which is of interest to the entire community and has been highly controversial and, indeed, the reason why we have a moratorium, effectively meant we couldn't talk to anyone about anything.

ASHLEY HALL: The secrecy rules are also a concern to Juliet McFarlane, another member of the committee. She's been growing canola for about 25 years at Young in south-east New South Wales.

JULIET MCFARLANE: People have no idea what is being discussed at committee level and who is saying what, and I think that's not a good outcome for growers, they, you know, farmers that are growing GM canola, or non-GM canola, they have no idea who's representing them and how that representation is happening.

IAN MACDONALD: I don't think that they've in any way not been able to get their views out.

ASHLEY HALL: Ian Macdonald is the New South Wales primary industries minister.

IAN MCDONALD: In fact the very fact I'm doing this interview indicates they're actually talking about the committee externally so I don't see the point of what they're saying.

ASHLEY HALL: Mr Macdonald rejects the allegation he's stacked the committee to get GM crops approved quickly.

IAN MACDONALD: Well, let's be very clear about it actually. This committee was appointed by Parliament. The legislation defined the committee and who would be on it, so the Parliament have approved this.

ASHLEY HALL: And he says over the years he's become very familiar with the dissenting views on the expert committee.

IAN MACDONALD: They had ample opportunity to put their views in relation to the matter. Their positions are well known, they haven't changed in years, and the committee hasn't essentially changed over that time. So I can't see the nature of their grievance.

The plain fact of the matter is New South Wales has made the decision by an overwhelming numbers in the Upper House in the State to proceed with a path to the production of GM food stuff in New South Wales.

MARK COLVIN: The New South Wales Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald ending Ashley Hall's report.


3.Farmers prepare for legal fight over GM
Melbourne, 25th March 2008

In a world first, Australian farmers have created legal history today as farmers not wishing to grow genetically modified crops are preparing early defence against unfair costs and liabilities. Canola grower and Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) National Spokesperson, Julie Newman, is set to tour Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia to distribute a legal letter for farmers to help them protect themselves from GM canola contamination and associated damages.

The letter warns farmers considering growing GM that GM-free farmers will be seeking the recommended legal recourse if GM crops result in any costs, damage or economic loss including testing, loss of markets and patent charges for unwanted contamination. The aim is to turn the responsibility on the GM farmers to contain their GM product rather than non-GM farmers being expected to take precautions to avoid contamination.

'State Governments have recommended common law as suitable for recovering any damage and economic loss associated with GM crops but early action is required if there is any chance of success,' said Mrs Newman. 'Very few people realise that common law recommendations means that we are faced with a ridiculous outcome where farmers are to take legal action against farmers but both GM and non-GM farmers need to be prepared.'

'We will not follow the international trend where non-GM farmers have tolerated contamination, lost markets and are now being forced to pay patent fees for using a patented product they didnít want.'

The letter states:

'On behalf of growers wishing to remain GM-free, I wish to notify you of our intention for our property and produce to remain GM-free and of the risk that the planting of any GM crops on your property poses to our properties. Accordingly, we are also notifying you that we will not accept the burden of any damage or loss which may be consequent on any decision by you to grow GM crops. Should you wish to grow GM canola or other GM crops, you must ensure none of your GM crop or residue escapes and contaminates our land holdings or otherwise causes damage or loss.'

'This issue is causing great divide amongst peaceful rural communities for a technology that has no proven benefits but relies instead on hype, alliances and aggressive political tactics. Itís a travesty that farmers have to go to such lengths to protect themselves from unwanted GM contamination,' said Ms Newman

'State governments should have taken proper action to protect the choice for farmers and consumers by establishing liability legislation that ensures the polluter pays, and not innocent farmers,' concluded Ms Newman.

Contact: Julie Newman 0427 711644

Tour dates include:
Tuesday, 25th March, 2008, Victoria: Launch at Melbourne Victorian Parliament Press Gallery, @ 10am.
Wednesday 26th March, 2008, South Australia: Wattle Range @ 5pm
Friday 28th March, 2008, South Australia:Rural Media Association @ 12md
Thursday 3rd April, 2008, New South Wales:NSW Parliament Press Gallery, Parliament House

Full version of * Legal letter (here)

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