No new laws needed for GM, says report

By Larissa Mullot

A report into segregation and liability issues surrounding the introduction of genetically modified crops says current farming systems, commercial contracts and common law can adequately accommodate GM crops.

The report, by Mark Barber from economics and policy consulting firm ACIL Tasman, was commissioned by the agricultural advocacy group Avcare.

It says standard practice among Australian farmers and common law give both GM-crop farmers and farmers who choose to grow conventional or organic crops protection and the ability to seek compensation for any economic loss.

Farmers have been dealing with new crop species, new varieties and chemical treatments for many years, the report says, and these challenges have been managed routinely.

Further, bulk-handling companies do not view GM crops as presenting any additional challenges. According to the report, farmers" property rights are established and managed by a hierarchy of mechanisms, which include:

Trends towards segregation and assurances in agriculture for identity preservation and traceability also mean that those responsible for possible damages caused by exceeding industry-established tolerances are less likely to escape identification.

Further, strong incentives already exist to encourage the grains industry to successfully manage the commercial introduction of GM crops. Failure to do so would lead to:

Demonstrating the effectiveness of the current system, according to Mr Barber, is the very low incidence of contaminated grain finding its way into the bulk handling system - 60 per cent of wheat stored in the eastern states of Australia is marketed as "Pesticide Residue Free", enabling it to be sold to sensitive markets such as Japan and Korea. The remainder all comes in below maximum residue limits.

In principle, there are three legal approaches to managing GM crops, according to the report:

The Australian Government, like the governments of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the US and Canada, has declined to introduce new liability regimes for GM crops.

All of these countries believe that common law is flexible enough to manage the results of gene technologies.

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