GM pollution now pervasive: agency

Monday 30 April 2001

Organic produce such as corn and canola imported from North America can no longer be guaranteed free from genetically modified (GM) organisms, according to the Organic Federation of Australia.

The federation is warning consumers that GM pollution is now so pervasive in North America that foodstuffs containing imported ingredients cannot be guaranteed GM-free without testing.

The warning follows an alert to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements from the independent United States certifier Farm Verified Organic. The certifier said GM pollution of corn, canola and possibly soybeans was now so pervasive, "we believe it is not possible for farmers in North
America to source seed free from it".

"We must come to grips with reality now. If we are to certify these crops as organic, we must admit the potential of GMO pollution exists in the seed itself, not to mention the potential for field and post-harvest contamination," the authority said

Recent media reports have highlighted the problem, including a Wall Street Journal investigation that tested 20 organic products with GM-free labels and found 16 had traces or more of GM organisms.

This was followed by a US Agriculture Department revelation that almost 80 seed companies had found traces of the GM corn variety Starlink in their corn seed.

Starlink was approved only for stock feed due to questions about its safety for humans, but was found last year in taco shells.

Scott Kinnear, speaking for the Organic Federation of Australia, said consumers should be alerted to the emerging crisis in North America, and importing companies should require US suppliers
to verify GM-free test results.

He said the issue highlighted regulatory shortcomings in Australia that were meant to enforce compliance with the organic industry's zero tolerance of GM organisms. "We think it is our
duty of care to inform consumers of this problem (in the US) because we believe consumers buy organic food because it is unadulterated," Mr Kinnear said.

Mr Kinnear, who is also running as the Greens' lead Senate candidate in Victoria, said the US problems underscored the need to amend the new Gene Technology Act so that Australian
farmers whose crops were contaminated had the right to sue.

GM crops have not been released for general use in Australia, but the Federal Government has approved trials in most states.