Legal

Organic farmer loses GM contamination court battle

Kirsten Robb /

A landmark decision made yesterday in the Western Australian Supreme Court may have lasting implications on the relationship between organic suppliers and those who harvest genetically modified crops.

Organic farmer Steve Marsh lost his three week battle for compensation against childhood friend and neighbouring farmer Michael Baxter on Wednesday, after he alleged his organic produce was contaminated by Baxter’s genetically modified canola.

Supreme Court judge Kenneth Martin ruled Baxter had grown the canola crop legally and had not acted negligently when genetically modified canola from his property blew on Marsh’s organic farm. 

“I am not satisfied that the swathing harvest methodology used for Two Dams and Range paddocks in 2010 factually caused this economic loss under any tests of the common law,” read Justice Martin’s decision.

Justice Martin went on to say Marsh’s economic loss was the result of the organic regulator, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, unreasonably stripping Marsh of his organic status.

Chair of industry organisation Australian Organic, Dr Andrew Monk, told SmartCompany the organic community was yet to know the full legal implications of the decision and would likely see them play out in the years ahead.

“Unfortunately, we don’t think this will be the last court case we see,” says Monk.

Monk says Australian Organic would like to see a review of the GM production code and some legislative back-up to enforce the code.

“If the production of the GM crop in those first couple of years by the Baxters was viewed as completely legal and nothing untoward, then we are very surprised by that, given that the practice back then evidently led to contamination,” says Monk.

“We think a review of the code and legislation around the code would not only have made the contamination avoidable, but it would have made the entire court anguish for both parties avoidable,” he says.

Monk says the growing organic farming industry is experiencing significant demand and the market is undersupplied, with organic sales tipped to hit $1 billion in coming years.

“We need more organic growers, not less,” he says. “Particularly given the context that the number of Australian farmers is decreasing every year, we all need to work on collaborating farming as an industry.”

“It certainly hasn’t been resolved and, as people are suggesting, it isn’t a great win for either side. There has been anguish on both sides of the fence and there are no winners in the case.”

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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