|Farmers to sue farmers (25/2/2008)|
Farmers to sue farmers
The Network of Concerned Farmers (NCF) is threatening legal action against farmers growing GM canola unless risk management is introduced prior to planting. The GM moratorium is set to lapse in Victoria on February 28th and in New South Wales on March 3rd and NCF believe fair risk management has been denied.
'GM contamination will be uncontrollable but no minimum limit of contamination has been set for companies to deduct a user fee from our income,' said Julie Newman, National Spokesperson for the Network of Concerned Farmers. 'It's a blank cheque from farmers incomes to the biotech companies wether you want to grow GM or not.'
'Australia will be the first country to accept the unique plant patent law with an end point royalty system which will allow a GM company to deduct a patent fee from our grain payments unless we prove we have no contamination. Fair risk management has been denied to non-GM farmers by allowing GM companies to be financially rewarded for contaminating our crops.'
The Canadian National Farmers Union vice president, Terry Boehm recently toured Australia explaining how the choice for non-GM farmers has been removed. Not only has segregation failed but it is almost impossible to source uncontaminated non-GM seed or to replant farmers own seed. Non-GM varieties have been deregistered and farmers growing their own seed are threatened with legal action for growing contaminated crops.
'Canada recognises the GM patent rights but do not have an end point royalty. It has taken 12 years to remove the non-GM choice for non-GM growers and the seed cost has increased by 600% since introduction. Costs for seed and seed use now amount to Can$126/tonne or 23% of the gross value of the crop.'
'Brazil recently approved GM products and while they do not recognise the GM patent rights they do recognise the end point royalty payment system. Soy farmers now pay 2% of the value of their crop to Monsanto unless they take rigorous and expensive steps to prove their product has not been contaminated with GM. With end point royalties, farmers are guilty unless proven innocent.'
'The increasing GM adoption rate is more to do with the ability to collect payments from farmers rather than a willingness by farmers to pay these costs,' said Mrs Newman
'The combination of uncontrollable contamination, GM patents and an end point royalty is a blank cheque to the biotech industry and we were told to 'trust Monsanto' when we asked for risk management.'
State governments are claiming that common law will be sufficient to deal with economic loss and liability issues and common law remedies involve non-GM growers taking legal action against GM growers. The Federal government released a paper on legal liability doubting the success of that action due to the inability to prove the source of contamination. NCF is working with lawyers to prepare the early legal action necessary to strengthen their case. This includes early notification to GM farmers of refusal to accept contamination, warning of inadequate crop management and coexistent plans and the need to take regular samples to establish the source of contamination.
'We are left with no choice, as much as we do not want to sue our neighbours, this is the only legal remedy available to protect ourselves.'
Contact: Julie Newman 08 98711562 or 08 98711644
End point royalty system: Australia and Brazil adopted an end point royalty system after signing the UPOV 91 International Treaty allowing companies to deduct a fee from grain payments on delivery of the grain to cover the breeder rights over the particular variety. A positive test using even a relatively insensitive field test would mean a 0.5% contamination would trigger 100% deduction of a user fee. Canada and America opposed this treaty and operate under the UPOV 67 treaty which has led to royalties being deducted when paying for the seed. If farmers replant their own seeds, the companies must pursue the farmers to collect their payments.
Patent: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay do not recognise the unique patent rights over GM crops. USA, Canada and Australia recognise these patent rights.
Common law: Tort law operates under similar conditions as spray drift where farmers must ensure their operations do not cause loss to their neighbours. While spray drift is insurable, GM contamination drift is not as it is a probability not a possibility.
Roundup Ready in Canada 96/97:
Canadian average yield = 1.5t/ha , Canadian average price = $370/t = Harvested crop value of $555/ha Average $6/lb seed cost (NFU) x 6 lb/acre (Canadian Canola Council recommendation) = $36/acre for seed + $15/acre for technology user fee (Terry Boehm NFU) = $51/acre = $126/ha. Average costs = 22.7% (or close enough to 23%) of value of crop for seed alone
Note: NSW legislation has an addition to legislation that prevents farmers being sued for being contaminated, however that is not relevent with an end-point royalty system.