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7-Business: Australian insurers wary of GM crops

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TITLE:  Australian insurers wary of GM crops
SOURCE: Farmers Weekly Interactive, UK, by Boyd Champness
DATE:   November 18, 2001

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Australian insurers wary of GM crops

AUSTRALIA'S green movement received an unlikely boost in its fight against 
genetically modified crops last week when the insurance industry admitted 
it was reluctant to cover the biotechnology industry against litigation.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has said that it is loath to 
insure farmers, biotechnology and food companies for claims involving GM 

It would mean farmers growing GM crops at their own risk, leaving them 
personally liable for any future damages claims.

The Weekly Times newspaper reported that the insurance industry feared a 
repeat of the situation similar to the Wittenoom asbestos disaster, in 
which mining companies were sued for millions of dollars in damages by 
workers who contracted cancer years after being exposed to the deadly 

The insurance council believes "the unforeseen risks of genetically 
modified foods may be too high for insurers".

The newspaper said insurers were wary of lawsuits involving consumers 
claiming allergic reactions to GM foods, contamination of non-GM crops and 
the development of mutant herbicide-resistant weeds.

The insurance council said, because the technology is new and complex, 
there is no way of assessing the risk of damages claims arising in the 
future and therefore no way of setting insurance premiums.

"It is such a new technology, it is virtually impossible to assess the 
risks down the track," ICA spokesman Rod Frail said.

And defending GM claims in court could prove difficult because of the 
complexity of the technology, the ICA said.

Two of Australia's biggest farm insurers, CGU and Elders, confirmed their 
uneasiness with GM crops to the Weekly Times.

"GM technology is still in its infancy and research on any direct or 
indirect impacts is far from conclusive," CGU spokesman Chris Jackson told 
the paper.

Mr Jackson said farmers who intend to grow a GM crop should declare it and 
cover would be "assessed on its merits".

Elders national insurance manager Kim Perrin said farmers should not assume 
they were automatically covered under their normal public liability 
policies, and should check with insurers before proceeding with GM crops.

Product liability lawyer David Poulton, from Minter Ellison, told the 
Weekly Times that insurance companies were likely to insert exclusion 
clauses in policies or decline to cover the risks associated with 
biotechnology altogether. 


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