BILL: Genetically Modified Crops Management

Today Mark spoke to this SA-Best Private Member's Bill which proposed to lift the moratorium on GM crops on mainland SA. While acknowledging the farmer protection measures in the bill, Mark stated why the Greens would not be supporting it: the best protection for our farmers is to keep the moratorium in place. 

Genetically Modified Crops Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill

I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak today on the Genetically Modified Crops Management (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill, introduced by the Hon. Frank Pangallo. The bill seeks to lift the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified crops on mainland South Australia via legislation. Leaving aside the merits of this issue, this is far more appropriate than the disrespectful method of lifting it via regulations, which the Minister for Primary Industries keeps doing and this chamber has earlier today again disallowed.

It will come as no surprise that the Greens do not support the lifting of the moratorium. This has always been our policy. We believe that the moratorium has served South Australia well and will be even more important into the future. However, there are some provisions in this bill that we do support, and these relate to the farmer protection measures that the honourable member has included in his bill.

The first of these is the right to damages provisions. This section is identical to my rights to damages private member's bills that I introduced four times previously in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014. The Greens applaud the inclusion of these provisions in this bill as we have long recognised the need for our farmers to have an entitlement to damages if they have suffered a loss due to GM contamination on their land.

We also subscribe to the 'polluter pays' principle and these provisions make the true owner of the GM seeds that cause the contamination—that is, the multinational agrichemical corporations who are the patent owners—responsible. This provisions removes the appalling situation that we have seen in other Australian states where farmer is pitted against farmer, destroying friendly neighbour relations and where the non-GM farmer is the one who ultimately suffers the loss.

There is nothing fair about this. The rules need to change so that we can even the playing field. You would think that even those purporting to represent farmers, both the handful that want to try to grow GM canola and the rest who do not, would be supportive of measures that protect farmers from economic loss resulting from contamination but, interestingly, Grain Producers SA has decided not to support the rights and economic interests of all farmers. It appears that they are instead looking after the economic interests of the multinationals. In response to this bill in their media release of 19 February 2020, CEO Caroline Rhodes said:

GPSA cannot accept legislation that would impose legal risk and complexity in adopting GM crops eroding the competitiveness of the state's industry through imposing unnecessary red tape.

If you are wondering whose legal risk she is referring to, it is the legal risk to the multibillion dollar foreign-owned, agrichemical corporations who are unwilling to accept legal and financial responsibility for their patented products in the event that they cause financial loss to others. Why are the representatives of our South Australian grain growers so concerned about the legal risks to these rich corporations to the detriment of our own local farmers? I think it is worth pondering that question.

I have lost count of how many times I have had heard the furphy that there are no cases of contamination from GMOs. We all know that that is not true. To the fanatic GM lobbyists who keep trying to sell this myth, I pose this: if GM contamination does not happen, if it is not real, then this protection measure will have no effect. It will have no work to do. It will not change anything, so why are they so opposed? If there is no contamination from GMOs then there is no loss suffered and there will be no entitlement to damages, so what is the problem?

Then we come to the government's response to this measure. On 3 March 2020 a government media release stated:

Minister Whetstone said seed companies would boycott South Australia and refuse to release GM seeds because of the untested right to damages provisions.

Nearly all provisions that parliament puts in legislation are untested until they are enacted and implemented, so is the Minister suggesting that we never pass new legislation because it has not been tested? That is simply ludicrous.

If these seed companies want to boycott South Australia because we as legislators expect them to take responsibility and liability for their own product, as we expect from all other companies selling their products to South Australian consumers, then so be it. If you cannot stand by your product and take legal responsibility if it causes damage to others, then perhaps you should peddle your product elsewhere.

In relation to the other provisions of the bill, if GM crops were allowed, the Greens think it is important for neighbours to notify each other if they are planning to cultivate or harvest a GM crop, so we fully support the proposed requirement for at least 60 days' notice. Although we appreciate the intention of the Hon. Frank Pangallo in proposing a buffer zone of at least 10 metres for GM crops, I am told by farmers and other experts that this is not nearly far enough. In the parliamentary briefing that I hosted on 3 March on this issue one of the speakers, Bob Mackley, a conventional farmer from the Wimmera region in Victoria, spoke about his experience of his farm being contaminated in 2011 by his neighbour's GM canola crop.

Mr Mackley traced germinating GM canola seed at least 100 metres into his paddock, and some material was washed all the way across the paddock which was about 300 metres. There was so much of it that it not only went through his fence but it pushed his fence completely over. Likewise, we appreciate the intention of the crop inspection requirements in this bill which enables testing for GMO contamination and ensures that the cost of the testing will not be at the expense of the non-GM farmer but rather an expense to the public purse. It may be that PIRSA is a more appropriate authority for this responsibility than the EPA, but we think the intention is the right one.

We acknowledge the efforts of the honourable member in incorporating these farmer protection measures into his bill. If the moratorium is to be lifted permanently in South Australia, protections are essential for non-GM and organic farmers suffering economic loss due to GM contamination. However, the Greens know that the best protection for our farmers is actually to keep the moratorium in place. With that, the Greens will not be supporting this particular bill.