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GM canola growing by the road -

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GM canola growing by the road

Di Bain reported this story on Friday, September 25, 2009 12:26:00

SHANE MCLEOD: A group of concerned famers in country New South Wales claims to have found
genetically modified canola plants growing on the side of the road, just metres from their non-GM
fields.

The farmers who want to remain GM free are worried their international reputation is being ruined
because the GM canola seeds could easily blow into their crops.

The company that produces most GM canola in Australia denies it's a breach of bio-security and says
the chance of the plants infiltrating the farms is low.

Di Bain reports.

DI BAIN: In southern New South Wales there's two types of canola growers, GM and non-GM.

It's been more than 18 months since the genetically modified crops were allowed to be cultivated in
New South Wales and tensions about contamination are mounting.

Thousands of tonnes of GM canola is being transported throughout southern farming country.

Gai Marshall whose farm is based in the Berrigan Shire says she's tested canola plants growing
along a 20-kilomtere stretch of the Riverina Highway and found they were nearly all genetically
modified plants.

GAI MARSHALL: The reason I was, I did test them was only just out of more than anything, just a
spur of the moment.

I was testing canola crops around in the vicinity of our farming properties and I had the test kits
with me and decided as I drove out to one of the properties, driving down the Riverina Highway in
the Berrigan Shire, that I'd just stop and test some of these large plants growing on the side of
the road to be three foot high.

And of the 20 test kits I did 19 of them were GM and one was non-GM.

DI BAIN: Gai Marshall is part of a group which call themselves concerned farmers. They've decided
to grow non-GM canola.

Another farmer Juliet McFarlane is concerned her canola crops will be contaminated by the GM canola
seed. She says losing her non-GM reputation would be a big economic issue.

JULIET MCFARLANE: They may certainly face possible loss of markets because no one's actually done
any market research in the last four or five years. They're just guessing that we won't lose
markets. They don't know that.

We would be liable for any false declaration even if it's made unknowingly. It leaves farmers in a
very vulnerable position. There's absolutely no insurance to cover you.

So yeah, it's an economic issue.

DI BAIN: There's now about 41,000 hectares of GM canola grown across New South Wales, Victoria and
Western Australia. It makes up about 2 to 3 per cent of Australia's total canola production.

Most of the modified seed is Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola. Company spokesman Tony May says the
growers' concerns are overstated.

TONY MAY: We have been made aware of that but we're not surprised. You know it really was taken
into account when the regulators allow the technology to be grown.

DI BAIN: If it's found on the side of the road, what's stopping it from blowing into the middle of
a paddock?

TONY MAY: It tends to remain quite localised. And you know as part of the introduction of the
technology there was a lot of studies went into investigating the weediness of canola. And they
found that, Roundup Ready canola, and they found that it was no more weedy or invasive than
conventional canola. It's unlikely that it's going to continue to re-establish itself and become,
you know, a weediness issue.

DI BAIN: So it's unlikely but it's still possible.

TONY MAY: Oh I guess the regulators assessed the risk as low so you know, it really is unlikely.

DI BAIN: He says protocols are in place to ensure grain is handled with care and much of it is
likely to be ultimately blended with non-GM seed by grain handlers.

The Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald agrees with Monsanto. He says under European
Union standards farmers are allowed to have a small percentage of GM grain in their crop.

IAN MACDONALD: I think there's a lot of exaggeration here. I don't believe that it's springing up
everywhere on a volunteer basis. And remember even if it does occur on a volunteer basis, the
studies show that it doesn't persist and can be easily treated.

However you mu- the protocol that's in place allows for, for import into Europe for instance, up to
900 kilos of GM seed within seed that is designated non-GM. So that's 900 kilos out of 100 tonnes.
So the protocols are in place that cover the potential for adventitious behaviour and a few seeds
mixing in.

DI BAIN: Mr Macdonald says he hasn't seen the tests that Gai Marshall has conducted but any
complaints would be addressed by department representatives.

SHANE MCLEOD: Di Bain reporting.