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Australian organic farmer loses GM test case
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) May 28, 2014

EU reaches compromise deal on GM crops: sources
Brussels (AFP) May 28, 2014 - After years of fractious talks, EU states have finally reached a compromise to allow cultivation of genetically modified (GM) food crops by giving their opponents an opt out, official sources said Wednesday.

European Union member states will have the right to refuse GM crops on their territory, even if they have got clearance on health and safety grounds at the EU level, the sources said.

Reassured on this count, France, which has led the campaign against GM foods, plus Britain and Germany had dropped their opposition to the agreement, they said.

In principle, EU approval should mean that all member states have no further say in the matter but in the face of intense opposition from France, other states and environmentalists, companies seeking GM approvals have been stalled for years in Brussels.

As a result, US agro-chemical giant Monsanto abandoned efforts to get new approvals last year, saying it was no longer worth the effort.

Officials said the compromise means that when a company now applies for GM clearance, a member country can cite objections other than health and safety, such as concern over its impact on the environment or law and order issues, so as to be excluded from the EU approval.

"The compromise in the end offers more guarantees to the anti-GM countries," one EU diplomat said.

This arrangement will also offer "a fairly solid legal guarantee" against possible future court action by a company seeking to grow its GM crops in the EU, the diplomat said.

Non-GM member states will however have to allow the transit of GM products through their territory.

Cultivation of GM foods stokes widespread suspicion in the 28-nation EU on health and environmental grounds.

GM crops, however, have won repeated safety approvals and are imported into the EU in large amounts for animal feed.

Several GM crops have won EU approval but only Monsanto's MON810 maize is still grown after it was first cleared in 1998, with two other corn types plus BASF's Amflora potato abandoned.

The compromise agreement will go to environment ministers for approval on June 12.

An Australian farmer who lost his organic produce licence after his fields were contaminated by a neighbour's genetically modified canola crop failed Wednesday to win his test case for losses.

In a judgment which could influence how GM crops are grown in Australia, Justice Kenneth Martin also denied an injunction to protect Steve Marsh's crops against future contamination.

Marsh sued neighbour Michael Baxter following the loss of organic certification on 70 percent of his land in 2010, after parts of canola plants and seed from Baxter's farm blew onto his property. He claimed the loss cost him financially.

But in a 150-page judgment, the court noted that genetically modified canola was approved for farming in Australia in 2010 and Baxter did nothing wrong in cultivating and harvesting the crop.

"Baxter was not to be held responsible as a broadacre farmer merely for growing a lawful GM crop and choosing to adopt a harvest methodology (swathing) which was entirely orthodox in its implementation," Martin said in his judgment.

Nor could Baxter be held responsible, in law, for the reaction of the Marshes' organic certification body.

Martin said there was no evidence of genetic transference at Marsh's farm, 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of Perth, where oats and other grains were grown and sheep grazed but where canola has not been grown.

"These canola swathes were all physically benign," he said, adding they posed no health risk or a risk of any GM genetic trait transfer to any species.

Lawyers for Marsh said the outcome of the case, which tested the legal rights of farmers to choose what they farm, was disappointing.

"(It) leaves Australia's non-genetically modified food farmers with no legal protection against contamination from nearby properties," said Slater and Gordon lawyer Mark Walter.

"We will closely examine the judgment of this complex and unique case and advise our client of his legal options, including his right to appeal."

Environmentalists from Greenpeace have campaigned against genetically modified crops in Australia, but the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics welcomed the court's decision.

The centre's programme leader Andrew Jacobs said the outcome should focus attention on the standards applied for organic licences in Australia, where there is a zero tolerance threshold for contamination in broadacre crops.

"In any event, there is no evidence whatsoever that GM crops are harmful," Jacobs said.

Mike Jones, a professor of agricultural biotechnology at Western Australia's Murdoch University, said the decision was a "victory for common sense".

"It is to be hoped that organisations that accredit organic farmers modify their rules to acknowledge that nothing in agriculture is 100 percent," he said.

"If they adjust their rules to reflect those of similar accreditation bodies overseas to allow for small amounts of unintended presence of other seeds, then organic, conventional and GM crop farmers can all co-exist without the antagonism that this case has engendered."

Outside the Supreme Court of Western Australia, Baxter welcomed the result and said he hoped it provided some certainty for other GM farmers.

"It's been three years of going through this and finally we've got the right result," he told reporters.


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