17 Sep 2015

Federated Farmers welcome Australian GM ruling

4:06 pm on 17 September 2015

An Australian court ruling on genetically modified (GM) crops sets out neighbours' responsibilities and could be applied in New Zealand, Federated Farmers says.

But the Green Party rejects that, saying the ruling is not relevant to New Zealand.

canola flowers - bright yellow, in close-up

Canola is a commonly genetically modified crop. Photo: 123RF

In 2014, organic farmer Steve Marsh sued his neighbour Michael Baxter for damages after sheaves of GM canola blew onto his property, resulting in his partial decertification as an organic farmer.

An initial court ruling found in the organic farmer's favour, but Australia's Court of Appeal ruled this month that the organic farmer was entitled to use his land for an abnormally sensitive use - but the GM neighbour was not obliged to limit his farming activities so it did not interfere with the organic farmers land.

The court said organic farmers, by putting their land to an abnormally sensitive use, could not unilaterally enlarge their own rights and impose limitations on the operations of their neighbours.

Dr William Rolleston

Dr William Rolleston Photo: Supplied

Federated Farmers president and science spokesman Dr William Rolleston welcomed these findings.

"We could see this across a number of activities, be it spray drift or growing different seeds or even setting up a quarantine facility," he said.

"If you set up a quarantine facility you don't expect that your neighbour's going to go to extra expense to keep himself disease-free just to meet your quarantine standards.

"It's up to you to put the processes in place to protect yourself. So it does rely on being good neighbours, and so I think this has a broader application but it is very obvious in my view when it comes to organics and genetic modification."

Dr Rolleston said genetic modification had been used extensively around the world, to the benefit of farmers and the environment, without any incident of harm attributable to the GM aspects of the application.

Steffan Browning

Green Party MP and organics spokesperson Steffan Browning - pictured last year at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

Green Party MP and organics spokesperson Steffan Browning said the Australian ruling was not relevant to New Zealand.

Mr Browning said he was concerned that, as the head of Federated Farmers, Dr Rolleston did not appear to have the majority of farmers' interests at heart.

"A non-GM farmer, which in New Zealand is absolutely everyone at this point, would have their crop devalued no matter whether it is organic or non-organic," he said.

"If it is non-GE it is better value than a GE crop. [The] lowest possible commodity value crop you can grow is the genetically engineered crops put out by Monsanto and others.

"The actual value of that end product is always lower than the non-GE."

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