Western Australia's Agriculture Minister says without strict liability for adverse effects from GMOs - something the biotech industry steadfastly refuses to contemplate - the GM moratoria introduced by the Australian states will continue indefinitely.
"Until we have assurances that we have an adequate legal framework, no state jurisdiction is ever going to lift their moratorium. They know bloody well that if you can't find an answer in common law it's going to come to the state to find the solution. We don't want that problem, thank you."
GM crop contamination may spark review
Sep 15 2005
The federal and state governments are being urged to consider national liability laws after canola crops in four states were contaminated with genetically modified (GM) material.
The West Australian government said the legal framework surrounding the GM technology and its escape into GM-free crops needed an urgent review in the wake of the nation's biggest ever contamination cases.
It was revealed that millions of canola seedlings in NSW have been destroyed after one variety in a crop trial was found to be genetically modified.
The case follows trace levels of Bayer CropScience's herbicide resistant canola turning up in GM-free crops in Victoria and South Australia.
And WA Agriculture Minister Kim Chance announced on Wednesday, that trace levels of GM canola had been found in two canola varieties being grown in GM-free trials in the state.
The level of contamination was well below the standards set by health authorities and dictated by GM-free markets, but Mr Chance said current legislation needed reviewing to clarify liability for future and much bigger levels of contamination.
"The Commonwealth claim to have actually done that and said they were satisfied there was an adequate legal framework," Mr Chance told AAP.
"But they're saying you can rely, for most of the issues, on common law.
"It's currently hopeless, and the only way you can resolve those difficult questions (surrounding crop contamination) is not by resort to the common law, it's by resort to the statutory law."
Mr Chance said GM proponents and bioscience companies should support his call because the states would not lift their moratoria on commercial GM food crops without legal certainty.
"Until we have assurances that we have an adequate legal framework, no state jurisdiction is ever going to lift their moratorium," he said.
"They know bloody well that if you can't find an answer in common law it's going to come to the state to find the solution. We don't want that problem, thank you."
Queensland is the only state that does not have a moratorium in place on commercial GM food crops, with the other states and territories maintaining bans until at least next year.
The NSW government announced this week it would extend its moratorium to 2008, but said it was reluctant to endorse federal liability laws.
"Does it apply to a farmer who unwittingly does something or does it apply to the companies that supply the seed or does it apply to the companies who maybe supply the seed from overseas. Where does that rest?" Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald asked on ABC radio.
"They are issues that are quite complex and really have to be discussed."
Monsanto Australia, whose GM cotton varieties are used in crops in Queensland and NSW, said the existing laws and regulations were enough.
"Manufacturers, including GM crop developers, are liable for their crops under existing liability and common law rules," a Monsanto spokesman said.
"Strict liability laws are specifically for products that are regarded as dangerous or risky and that doesn't apply to technology which is carefully assessed and only released once it's been approved by a federal regulator."
Bayer CropScience declined to comment on the matter.
The peak grain growers group, the Grains Council of Australia, also rejected the call for national liability legislation, saying it would be an unreasonable burden on the technology and on farmers.
Mr Chance will urge agriculture ministers to consider the issue at the Primary Industry Ministerial Council Meeting in Launceston on October 26.
Comment was being sought from federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran.