While in Western Australia Kelli and I got to attend a gathering with a panel to discuss a major genetically modified (GMO) food debate currently afflicting that area. It was so fascinating to learn about how GMO is affecting them and how they feel about it.

As Kelli mentioned in our second catch-up post, we had the opportunity while in Perth to attend our first Australian, hmmm, our first non-American food/health event. The gathering was to discuss the implications of genetically modified food and to support an Australian farmer named Steve Marsh who is involved in a legal battle with Monsanto right now. He lost his organic status after GMO canola seeds from his neighbor’s farm blew over onto his land and sprouted.

So the question at hand is if the neighbor, the GMO farmer, or Steve the organic farmer, or Monsanto is responsible for keeping GM seeds from spreading. Here the tables are turned in that this time it is Monsanto being sued (normally they sue people when their patented seeds get blown on to a non-customer’s field – who’s deemed to have “stolen” the genetic patent). Marsh is claiming damages due to not being able to sell his crops as certified organic and receive the premium that organic commands over conventional crops.

It’s a very calculable damage figure, so it really does boil down to whether farmers and companies that use GM seeds should be made to ensure that they don’t contaminate others’ fields. Interestingly, Marsh’s own state farmers’ association voted to use their funds to support the GM farming neighbor, claiming that the cost of seed containment is too high. Fortunately, the national and other state organizations voted to support Marsh in his legal fight.

There’s a lot at play, but according to Marsh, it’s only a matter of choice. Does the farmer get to choose to not use modified seeds, or does he have to accept that some level of contamination is unavoidable.

A short presentation by Marsh explaining what was found and how was followed by a panel discussion with doctors, farm association directors, and even a few state politicians, highlighting how corruptly Monsanto behaves when they want something. Truth is merely an obstacle to overcome for them.

When talking about GMO’s the most common question is, “What’s the big deal? Are they bad for us?” The panel discussion made it clear that we simply don’t know. Unlike traditional plant breeding – where you mate a plant with a plant…and they’re the same king – genetically modifying something means that a gene from another species is introduced, essentially creating a new species mutated from the original.

Is it safe? There’s the problem. No one knows. The doctor on the panel found this to be the most frustrating aspect. Because Monsanto owns the seed, they can decide who does research on it. And then because they own the research, they can dictate what results get published. See the dilemma? And with the techonology being so new, we haven’t had time to see the long term effects on humans.

There’s reason to be skeptical. The last time science came out with a new form of food – hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) – they told everyone that these new foods were safe and even better for us than the traditional foods they were replacing. Now they’re having to admit that everything they said was false, and that we should avoid hydrogenated oils like the plague. There’s reason to be leary of new food forms.

The event itself was incredibly informative and we enjoyed seeing a passionate group of people get together to talk about important issues. For Kelli and me, it was even more fun being that they all talked like Steve the Crocodile Hunter and made comments like, “Can ye believe the bloke said that?” or “Good on ‘em.” But the importance of eating foods that are free from GMO’s until they’re proven safe is serious, even if it does make you smile when they say it because of their accent.

2 thoughts on “Genetically Modified in Australia

  1. I’m DELIGHTED to hear that Monsanto is being sued. They are at the top of my list as the scariest corporation in the world. Kudos and lots of luck to Steve for taking on Goliath in a lawsuit.

    On another note, how exciting that you got to take part in that event. As an American, I’m always interested to hear how people in other parts of the world are handling the current disconnect from whole, organic foods.

    1. It’s nice to see the tables turned, isn’t it? It’s amazing to see this lone farmer who was brave enough to take them on, but it was also incredible to see the vast support he received in the city from all sorts of people.

      It really was a great opportunity to be able to peak into the issues here in Australia. The idea of avoiding GMO foods is fairly commonplace here. One of the sad part, though, is to hear one of their main arguments: “Look at what happened in America. We don’t want our food to be that way.” At least we can serve as an example. 🙂

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