Following a truck fire and spill on 9 August 2011 of 15 tonnes of GM canola in the middle of a self declared GM-free zone in Williams, Western Australia, the Safe Food Foundation has retained Slater & Gordon lawyers to provide legal advice and support to local GM-free grain growers near the site.
The Safe Food Foundation has also offered to provide free GM test kits to local GM-free grain growers who want to test their crops this coming harvest. Scott Kinnear, Director of the Safe Food Foundation said, “This spill highlights the complex network of legal responsibilities that need to be unravelled and understood given the introduction of GM canola into WA, Victoria and NSW. It also highlights that the issue is between GM and GM-free and not just organic versus GM as has been portrayed by some commentators.
The 12 grain growers in the region who have declared themselves GM-free and are currently negotiating contracts with Japan have a right to know who is responsible for the cost of clean up and monitoring; over what time frame the clean up will take place, and who will compensate them for loss and damage should their GM-free crops be contaminated and they incur loss of income or clean up costs on their land.
It is possible that the truck driver, the trucking company, Cooperative Bulk Handling, the Department of Agriculture and Food and and other parties may all have some legal liability for the cost of cleanup and monitoring over many years, and for loss and damage should contamination cause loss of GM-free status and loss of income.
While the Safe Food Foundation understands a large vacuum cleaner was used to clean up some of the canola, it is inevitable given the size of the grain and the quantity involved that GM canola is still on the roadside. A lot of questions need to be answered publicly by the Government and Cooperative Bulk Handling which the SFF understands was moving the grain. Some key questions are:
- Which parties are accepting legal responsibility for the GM canola spill?
- Precisely what distance of roadside is contaminated? It could span many kilometres.
- Precisely how much canola was lost in the spill? This will be the difference between the GM canola that left the silo minus the GM canola recovered at the site of the fire.
- Is there any chance of contamination with nearby GM free canola crops given they may flower until October if spring rains are sufficient.
- What monitoring program, both for this harvest and in the longer term will be put in place, what testing will be involved, who will monitor, who will undertake the clean up work and what herbicides or mechanical measures will be used in cleaning up GM canola that grows along roadsides as a result of this spill?
The Safe Food Foundation believe that Slater & Gordon is best equipped to help ensure that the GM-free grain growers along the roadside affected by the spill are appropriately protected for this season and into the future.
Slater & Gordon lawyers have also been retained by Steve Marsh, the organic grower who lost his organic certification following alleged GM canola contamination.