GM crops: organic farmer loses court case over alleged contamination

CanolaThe Guardian -by Brendan Foster

An organic farmer has lost a landmark court case against a neighbour who grew genetically modified food.

Steve Marsh was suing his neighbour and former friend Michael Baxter for $85,000 after claiming that GM canola drifted onto his oats, rye and sheep farm at Kojonup, 260km south-east of Perth.

As well as financial compensation, Marsh wanted Western Australia’s supreme court to issue a permanent injunction banning Baxter from planting GM crops.  

But Justice Kenneth Martin came down on the side of Baxter when he delivered his judgment on Wednesday.

In his 150-page judgment summary, Justice Martin said there had been no unreasonable interference with Marsh’s crops and that he had only claimed for financial loss. Marsh said he lost almost 70% of his farm after his organic certification was withdrawn.

“They did not claim to have suffered any physical damage or injury to themselves, to their animals or to their land at Eagle Rest,” the judgment said.

An 11-day hearing in February was told that Roundup Ready (RR) canola swathes by US company Monsanto, were harmless to animals, people and land even if consumed.

“GM canola only posed a risk of transferring genetic material if a canola seed germinated in the Eagles Rest soil … and then later cross-fertilised through its pollen being exchanged with another compatible species,” Justice Martin said.

“There was no evidence at the trial of any genetic transference risks posed by the RR canola swathes blown into Eagle Rest at the end of 2010. The Marshes had never grown canola upon Eagle Rest.”

He said it had not been shown there had been “any reasonable interference” by Baxter, who he said had used well-accepted harvest methodology.

“Mr Baxter was not to be held responsible as a broadacre farmer merely for growing a lawful GM crop and choosing to adopt a harvest methodology (swathing), which was entirely orthodox in its implementation,” he said.

“Nor could Mr Baxter be held responsible, in law, for the reactions to the incursion of the Marshes’ organic certification body, NCO, which in the circumstances presented to be an unjustifiable reaction to what occurred.”

Speaking outside the court, Baxter said the protracted court case had destroyed his life.

“It has been a real tough three-and-a-half years,” he said. “My marriage has fallen apart – I just want to get back to normal. You don’t expect your neighbour to sue you.”

The Western Australian Greens MP, Lynn MacLaren, was scathing of the result.

“WA laws have failed a fairness test today,” she told the Guardian. “This is a saddening result for Steve Marsh and non-GMO farmer holding their breath in hopes of defence against Monsanto.

“It is clear GM farming cannot exist with organic farming when voluntary regulation practices are ignored.

“What we have seen is this court case is an undeniable dismissal of voluntary regulations that could have prevented the contamination of Steve Marsh’s crop.

“This judgment comes at great cost to the Marsh family and non-GMO farmers everywhere.”

WA Pastoral and Graziers Association director John Snooke welcomed the court’s decision, saying there were more than 1,000 GM farmers in WA.

“They are embracing the new technology,” he said.

Julie Newman from the National Network of Concerned Farmers, said Marsh would appeal the decision in the high court.

“This should have never been farmer against farmer, the government should have sorted the issue out,” she said.

“If you lose part of your crop through spray drift you get compensation.

“When GM crops contaminate your crop you get nothing. “This is ridiculous.”

2 thoughts on “GM crops: organic farmer loses court case over alleged contamination

  1. “An 11-day hearing in February was told that Roundup Ready (RR) canola swathes by US company Monsanto, were harmless to animals, people and land even if consumed.”

    Oh, well, THAT settles it.

    If Monsanto says it’s safe, you can bet your life on it (yes).

  2. I cannot eat corn anymore. I’ll wait for my organic home grown corn. I think the gmo’s and other crap in our foods, is what is behind so many who now have Acid reflux and other serious digestive problems. I am fighting for my life to get off Prilosec, it had almost destroyed my insides in 5years of usage. By the way did you know, some generic brands say made in Isreal??

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.