BY OLIVER PERKINS
Canberra Times, 25 September 2008
Australian farmers signing up to grow genetically modified canola are exposing themselves to ''onerous'' obligations, an international law expert says.
Duncan Currie says the contract between biotechnolgy firm Monsanto and GM canola growers bars farmers from selling their land to anyone without a Monsanto licensing agreement.
Monsanto described the claim as ''ridiculous''.
The contract, obtained by The Canberra Times, shows that if the land is sold up to two years after the agreement expires, contractual obligations are passed to the buyer, who could be liable for the former owner's contract breaches.
Monsanto reserves the right to take legal action against any farmers who possess its patented canola without a licensing agreement.
If GM canola is found, the land owner must prove whether its presence was intentional or due to inadvertent contamination.
Under the contract, farmers give Monsanto the right to ''inspect, take samples and test all of the grower's owned and/or leased fields and storage bins'' and to obtain copies of all operational documents for three years after they buy GM canola.
Mr Currie believes the implications for farmers are dire.
''In general this is a very one-sided agreement,'' he said.
''[One provision] is particularly onerous [and] includes liability for payment of Monsanto's legal and attorney fees, including expense incurred in enforcing Monsanto's rights and investigation expenses.''
Australian National University patent law expert Matthew Rimmer said contracts such as Monsanto's were not new, and many of the company's rights in the contract would be granted under patent law.
He said the contract highlighted the need for patent law reform to deal better with biological inventions.
A Monsanto spokeswoman said claims of contractual bias were ''ridiculous''.
''We are licensed to sell this product. All the state farm associations and commodity councils, which we work closely with, asked for GM canola [and] all growers undergo accreditation before they can get access to the seed,'' she said.
''Farmers are very happy with the process ... We haven't had these issues in Australia yet.''
NSW and Victorian farmers are now harvesting Australia's first GM canola crops after a moratorium on GM crops was lifted in both states earlier this year.
The crops contain resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in many non-selective herbicides. A member of the Concerned Farmers Network, Donald McFarlane, said canola crops were hard to contain in one location.
''Farmers of canola will know that it's almost impossible to stop the spread of [canola] seed,'' he said.
''Every year, up to 13 per cent of a crop will escape to end up god knows where.''
He was concerned if a farm sold land within three years of planting GM crops, the contract did not ensure the new owner would be trained to prevent crop contamination.
The NSW Farmers Association would not comment on deals between Monsanto and individual farmers.
Its president, Jock Laurie, advised farmers to seek legal advice before signing any contract, GM or otherwise.