Many WA farmers have welcomed the government-endorsed option to grow genetically modified canola, claiming coexistence between GM, non-GM (conventional) and organic farming is possible. Monsanto as patent holder of the GM seed espouses values of “ethical, transparent and competitive business conduct”.

But does the fact that GM canola growers are only voluntarily audited support, or contradict, these values?

Organic farmers, as part of their certification process, are audited annually. Leesa Caldwell, president of the Organic Farmers Association of WA told Edith Cowan University’s 3rd Degree: “Every year we’re required to prove we’re using organic seeds, seed raising mix, right through to methods for transporting the seed.”

OGAWA’s website states the concessions minister Terry Redman used to “swing the vote for GM canola” have been reneged upon: “The map to show where GM canola was growing did not appear, the list of farmers was rejected on confidentiality reasons, the random audits were anything but random, and the GM-free zoning is now not being supported.”

Professor Wallace Cowling, key researcher for Canola Breeders WA, says members of the Australian Seeds Federation like CBWA growing non-GM (conventional) canola follow a decades-long, rigorous set of best practice guidelines and participate in a government seeds certification scheme.

“This includes keeping GM out of seeds, which is a critical component. This purity maintenance ensures the seed released to the public is what it says it is,” he said.

The WA Department of Agriculture and Food’s 2011 report detailing the audit process, tabled in Parliament in April, showed only 29 local government GM canola-growing areas out of a total 49 were audited. The audit process was paid for by DAFWA at an approximate cost of $200,000.

Esperance had the highest number of GM canola growers (30) yet only two growers were audited. Bruce Rock (11) and Narrogin (10) were in the mid-range of growers, yet neither location was audited.

DAFWA auditors audited 55 plantings of GM canola (53 growers). A total area of 24,158 hectares of GM canola was audited or about 33% of the area sown to GM canola in WA in 2010. The aim of the audit program was to assess the compliance of growers with the conditions of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Licence and Stewardship Agreement.

The report found no major or minor non-conformities in relation to RoundUp Ready Licence and Stewardship Agreement requirements. Only one grower told the auditor of their intention to save seed from a canola crop planted within 400 metres of a GM crop. The grower then decided against saving the seed for planting in 2011 on the recommendation of the DAFWA auditor. As it is against the terms of the agreement.

3rd Degree asked DAFWA whether results from this process showed a fair representation of all GM canola growers, and whether there would be any changes to next season’s audit program. A spokesperson concluded:

“Growers volunteered to be audited and in this respect the audit program was similar to other voluntary grains industry audit programs.

“DAFWA’s biometrician calculated there was a need for 53 audits to provide reasonable assurance of an adequate level of compliance of the GM canola grower with the conditions of the license and stewardship agreement.

“Growers were encouraged to participate in the audit program to ensure audits were carried out in a wide range of areas, included a diversity of production systems and sufficient growers were audited to provide confidence in the results of the audits.

“DAFWA has recommended the WA grains industry consider continuing the audit program using independent auditors currently available under existing voluntary audit programs.”

Hansard reveals Albany was audited despite no GM canola growers being listed in the region on DAFWA’s website.

Robyn McSweeney, for the Minister of Agriculture, said: “A difference between the location of the grower’s property and the grower’s postal address has led to the discrepancies.”

He said DAFWA respected individual GM growers’ right to privacy and only growers who volunteered would be audited: “The government has made a commitment not to identify individual GM canola growers.”

GM canola farmer Michael Baxter of Kojonup, neighbour of contaminated and discredited organic farmer Steve Marsh, was one of four farmers in the area audited out of a possible 17. Despite Marsh’s predicament, Baxter’s farm was found to comply with the conditions of Monsanto’s licence and stewardship agreement.

*This article is the latest in a 10-part 3rd Degree investigative series into the GM industry in Western Australia and the links between the WA government and Monsanto

Peter Fray

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