Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Farmer on international crusade against GM crops
Reporter: Sarah Clarke
KERRY O’BRIEN: The new age of genetically modified crops is moving so fast it’s hard to keep up.
But for some Australian farmers crunch point has arrived.
Canola farmers have to make a choice between jumping on the GM bandwagon and producing higher yields, or sticking with traditional practice.
For them, the experience of Canadian grower Percy Schmeiser may have particular resonance.
He claims to have been a victim of genetic contamination and is now travelling the world to advise others to resist.
Science and environment reporter, Sarah Clarke reports.
ARTHUR BOWMAN, CANOLA FARMER: We only have one chance.
Once we go GM canola, there is no way we can go back to a free state.
SARAH CLARKE, REPORTER: Arthur Bowman has been growing canola in NSW central west for 18 years.
He’s one of many farmers who harbour reservations about the world-wide push to change to genetically modified canola.
It’s chemical giant Monsanto leading the charge in Australia.
Doing the hard-sell, vowing huge benefits to farmers.
BRIAN ARNST, SPOKESPERSON for chemical and agricultural seed giant MONSANTO: The results have been outstanding in terms of better weed control, lower costs to the farmers, better use of the environment.
SARAH CLARKE: Monsanto has spent more than five years trialling GM canola in secret plots across Australia.
Now it wants to go into full commercial production.
But wary farmers believe there should be more time for debate.
ARTHUR BOWMAN: It all seems to be Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto.
And we — we’re in the fortunate position we’re an island and can afford to keep out of this technology in the meantime.
And in that time, we can prove all these plus and minuses to the farmers.
SARAH CLARKE: There have already been negatives in Europe with nervous consumers abandoning GM products in favour of organic, costing Canada one-third of its exports.
PERCY SCHEMEISER, CANADIAN CANOLA FARMER: It has destroyed our market of canola in many countries of the world.
All of the European common market will not buy one bushel of canola from us.
That means 30 per cent of our exports have been lost just to Europe alone.
SARAH CLARKE: Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser became a GM canola producer by accident.
His crop was contaminated by pollen from a neighbouring genetically modified crop.
Any complaints he may have had were steamrolled by Monsanto, which successfully sued to seize his crop.
PERCY SCHEMEISER: I lost it all to a contamination because a judge ruled in my case it doesn’t matter how Monsanto’s genetically modified canola gets on my land or any farmers land.
You violate the pattern and you infringe on the pattern and your seed becomes Monsanto’s property.
SPEAKER: This meeting, I think is probably one of the most important meetings that’s been held in Dubbo for a long time.
SARAH CLARKE: Australian farmers are now being warned by Percy Schmeiser that they too could become victims of genetic contamination.
He claims they will be powerless to stop GM pollen being spread in a number of ways, whether it be by wind, by bees or even off the back of a truck.
That could spell disaster for those farmers who are not yet ready to embrace GM technology.
PERCY SCHEMEISER: Once you release it into the environment through cross pollination and direct seed movement, as in my case, it will contaminate organic farmers and conventional farmers because the GMO gene is a dominant gene and will take over the plant that it gets into.
So there’s no such thing and repeating, there’s no such thing as coexistence.
BRIAN ARNST: We are firmly of the belief that coexistence can occur.
I think that as we go forward, everyone will realise that in fact in a situation like Australia where our agricultural systems are somewhat different than those in Europe, for example, and the UK, that in fact growing biotech crops in coexistence with organic farming will be successful.
SARAH CLARKE: Monsanto has pinned its argument on a new study published in the prestigious ‘American Science Journal’.
While it found the pollen drift from GM canola can travel up to 3km, contamination levels were considered insignificant.
PROFESSOR RICK ROUSH, COOPERATIVE RESEARCH CENTRE FOR WEED MANAGEMENT: People don’t have to be as concerned as they might have been about the extent of pollen flow between the fields.
The organic industry will have concerns and I think it’s a matter of trying for – there’ll have to be some effort for people to work with one and other and figure out where the GM fields are going and where the organic farms are going and see if some accommodation can be met.
SARAH CLARKE: By this time next year, Monsanto could have its first commercial canola crop in the ground in Australia.
While the Federal regulator is currently assessing its application, the company is confident its track record overseas and here in Australia will get it across the line.
BRIAN ARNST: We’re confident that when we get to commercialisation in let’s say 12 months time, these systems are available, management systems for farmers to ensure that coexistence can occur.
PERCY SCHEMEISER: What does this do?
SARAH CLARKE: That is simply a pipedream according to some who have already lost out in the new age of genetically modified farming.
PERCY SCHEMEISER: I have five children and 14 grandchildren.
Do I want to leave them a legacy of land and food with poisons?
I want to leave them a legacy of land and food without poisons.
Think very serious about allowing GMOs into Australia.
There is no turning back.
BRIAN ARNST: The whole industry has to be – embrace this technology if it’s going to be successful and go forward, from food, health and safety, through to the environmental and the growing of the crops, right through to the trade.