Genetic modification is the process of manipulating the genes of a species to achieve desired characteristics. It can be the adding of a gene from carrots to white rice to significantly increase the Vitamin A content of that rice and thus improving the nutrient intake of a large portion of the consumers of rice. It can also be the addition or removal of genes from a plant to increase it’s resistance to certain types of pests, and therefore significantly reducing the amount of pesticides used.
Unfortunately some of the plants that have been genetically modified (GM) are not able to produce seeds for the next year’s crop, so farmers using this species need to purchase more seed every year. This is an excellent money earner for the business that developed the genetically modified plants for a set number of years, but can be a major issue for the farmer.
A GM crop may also produce seeds that spread to another farmer’s paddock and alter that crop. This can have significant impact, especially if the second farm is practicing organic practices, as there is a nil tolerance for GM contamination in Australia.
Steve Marsh, an organic farmer from Western Australia, is currently suing his neighbour for loss of organic certification due to genetically modified canola seed allegedly contaminating his property. This is an important case as it highlights the importance and necessity to introduce national laws to control crop contamination by GM seeds and plants.
There are only a very small number of genetically modified food crops allowed to be grown and sold in Australia and they are tightly monitored by the Gene Regulator but the potential cross contamination of non GM crops is not yet as tightly controlled. Those foods that contain GM material must be clearly labelled according to the Food Standards Code.
The case is being supported by the Safe Food Foundation amongst other groups.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this court case and the flow on effects across Australia.
Written by Rachelle Williams – The Green Food Safety Coach
Twitter – GreenFoodSafety