The Guardian 19 October, 2005
Farmer falls prey to GE contamination
The first confirmed case of genetically engineered (GE) contamination in a field of commercial canola has struck a Victorian farmer. The incident opens up a legal mine-field for farmers and threatens Australian export markets.
Geoffrey Carracher, a Canola farmer from Wimmera, accepted an offer by Greenpeace to test his canola seeds at an independent lab.
The seeds were found to be contaminated with Bayer’s Liberty Link gene at a level of 0.5%. This is 50 times higher than the original GE contamination found in June.
Alarmingly, the Grace seeds he purchased were also sold to farmers across three states: NSW, Victoria and South Australia, creating serious legal and financial problems for them.
"I am devastated. My 64-hectare crop worth $48,000 is now at risk. Any farmers who sowed Grace canola face the same risk and need to get their crop tested", said Mr Carracher.
Greenpeace took the initiative to begin testing canola seeds for GE contamination because it believed State Governments, seed companies and the biotech industry have so far failed to take decisive action to stop the spread of GE.
"Testing seed samples from farmers should have been done months ago, by industry and government", said Greenpeace GE campaigner Jeremy Tager.
"Laboratory analysis takes 3-5 days. Contaminated canola varieties could have been identified within a matter of a few weeks, and a plan developed for protecting farmers and our food shortly after that."
"The GE industry insists that we must all accept this sort of contamination, when it is a direct result of their incompetence and lack of care. They want to convince us that we can ‘be a little bit pregnant’, in reality any level of contamination threatens Australia’s GE free status", said Tager.
Greenpeace has long opposed the release of genetically engineered plants into the environment because it believes they will create a new form of biological pollution that would be extremely difficult to control and whose impacts are virtually unknown.
Mr Carracher, who is dedicated to being and remaining a GE-free farmer, wants the company that owns the GE product to be held accountable. "I want Bayer to take responsibility — they own the patent and they get the profit, so it’s only fair that they should be liable for what happens to farmers like me."
Greenpeace has now proposed an action plan to combat further GE contamination of Australian crops, including: comprehensive testing of seed stocks; a farmer protection fund to cover farmers’ costs, and strict liability for GE products, so that holders of the patent are held responsible for harm and contamination caused by their product.