By: Calla Wahlquiest

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

The OISCC’s Marg Will said the proposed change would bring Australia in line with Europe and the US, which both make allowances for some level of accidental contamination.

The OISCC’s national standards subcommittee will decide on the application in February 2015.

On 11 December, it rejected an applicatino be the West Australian government to allow up to 0.9% GM material in organically and biodynamically certified products.

In its application, dated February, the WA Department of Agriculture and Food argued that current requirements around GM contamination were “unworkable and/or restrict business opportunities”.

It accused the OISCC of lacking “science-based evidence” for taking a hardline approach on GM contamination while allowing some pesticide contamination.

“The current zero tolerance to GM material in Australian organic products is more stringent than Australian trading partners and so may work as a disincentive to organic and biodynamic producers,” it said.

About a third of canola crops in WA are the genetically modified Roundup Ready strand.

Other GM crops have been trialled, but only a barley plot near Corrigin, 288km east of Perth, is still active.

Wills said the WA government’s proposal would have allowed GM contamination in the end product and put Australia out of line with international organic standards set by the Codex Alimentarius, which in turn could have affected the export market.

But she said the ACO’s application, if approved, would protect organic farmers from losing their organic certification because of unintended contamination.

Grain Industry Association of WA’s Ian Longson said the current strict requirements around GM contamination were “just not tenable, it’s just not achievable, in any sort of sense of the word”.

Longson said farmers were concerned about the threat of legal action in the wake of the Marsh case, and a less “black and white” standard was needed.

“If you had to prove absolute zero mercury, or zero zinc, or zero dust, you would not be able to deliver any grain,” he said.

Originally Published: The Guardian