Farmer loses landmark GM court case
30 May 2014 | By Olivia Midgley
AN organic farmer who was suing his neighbour after claiming his genetically modified (GM) canola had drifted onto his own crops has lost his landmark legal battle.
Steve Marsh said Michael Baxter’s GM crops had contaminated his organic farm in Perth, Western Australia.
As well as suing Mr Baxter for $85,000 in compensation, Mr Marsh, who farms at Eagle Rest, also wanted the supreme court to issue a permanent injunction banning his neighbour from planting GM crops.
He said he had lost almost 70 per cent of his farm because his organic certification was withdrawn.
However, in his 150-page summary, Justice Kenneth Martin ruled in favour of Mr Baxter, saying there had been no unreasonable interference with Mr Marsh’s crops.
“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.
“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 added.
He said there was no evidence of any genetic transference risks posed by the RR canola swathes blown into Eagle Rest at the end of 2010.
Justice Martin said Mr Baxter was also not responsible for the reaction to remove Mr Marsh’s organic certification.
Head of policy at the Soil Association Emma Hockridge said the ruling was ‘disappointing’.
“It shows that if GM crops are ever grown in England, home-produced organic farming and food are at risk unless the Government acts to ensure they are protected from contamination by GM crops,” she said.
“Farmers should have the choice to grow non-GM crops without facing the costs of contamination, and without having to take neighbours to court to try and protect their livelihood.
The case shows how growing GM crops can set farmer against farmer. The outcome of the case strengthens the argument for the Government in England to introduce laws which make it unnecessary for farmers to sue their neighbours, and to make GM companies responsible for any contamination their products cause.”
Julie Newman from the National Network of Concerned Farmers, said Mr Marsh would appeal the decision in the high court