GENET archive


6-Regulation: Call for GE liability laws in Australia

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TITLE:  GM crop contamination may spark review
SOURCE: Australian Associated Press / The Age, Australia
DATE:   15 Sep 2005

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GM crop contamination may spark review

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

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. AdvertisementAdvertisement

"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

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.


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