Baxter a 'hero': Wilson

05 Jul, 2014 02:00 AM
 WA Liberal MP Rick Wilson.
It could well be argued that GM technology has massively reduced the use herbicide and pesticide use
WA Liberal MP Rick Wilson.

WESTERN Australian farmer Michael Baxter has been described as a modern day hero who should be hailed for resisting “the bullying of the multinational green movement”, says WA Liberal MP Rick Wilson.

Mr Wilson gave a speech in federal parliament last Wednesday, praising Mr Baxter’s win in the WA Supreme Court against his organic farming neighbour Steve Marsh, in the Marsh v Baxter case.

Mr Marsh had sought $85,000 in damages and a permanent injunction to stop his neighbour growing and swathing genetically modified (GM) canola, after his organic certification was suspended due to the discovery of GM contamination in late 2010.

Mr Wilson said Mr Baxter was a “humble farmer” from the Shire of Kojonup, in the heart of his O’Connor electorate who planted a crop of Roundup Ready (RR) canola in May 2010 to improve the control of weeds like ryegrass.

“Finally, after many years of watching our Eastern States counterparts benefit from the agronomic and economic improvements of GM technology, WA growers had access to this revolutionary technology,” he said of the WA government’s decision in January 2010, to pass an exemption to the GM Crops Free Areas Act 2003.

But Mr Wilson said not everybody welcomed the decision to allow WA growers access to the “best technology that plant breeding has to offer”.

“The environmental industry, led by Greenpeace, has constantly attacked the science of biotechnology, even going so far as to break into a CSIRO research facility and destroying GM crop trials,” he said.

“These modern day Luddites have never offered a shred of evidence that GM crops, which have been grown around the world since the mid-1990s, have caused any health or environmental damage.

“In fact, it could well be argued that GM technology has massively reduced the use of herbicides and pesticides in the world’s maize, sorghum and cotton crops.”

Mr Wilson said Mr Marsh took legal action against Mr Baxter, after losing his right to market his lamb and cereal crops certified organic with the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) and was represented pro bono by high profile law firm Slater and Gordon.

“Interestingly, Mr Marsh was also supported by the Safe Food Foundation (SFF) who claim to have raised $750,000 to assist with his case,” he said.

“Given the value of the pro bono legal advice and the $750,000 raised by the SFF to recover an $85,000 damages claim, it is obvious this case was always politically motivated to intimidate Western Australian farmers considering growing GM canola.”

But Mr Wilson said Mr Baxter “stood firm in the face of legal intimidation, a media smear campaign led by ‘experts’ such as celebrity surfers, and industry organisations who were urging him to settle so the bad publicity would just go away”.

“I am pleased to report that on May 28 in the WA Supreme Court, Justice Martin found that Michael Baxter’s conduct in planting RR canola was entirely lawful,” he said.

“The evidence overwhelmingly supported that RR canola is ‘an entirely benign subject matter’.

“Mr Marsh did not even attempt to claim that the RR seeds were toxic, harmful, or otherwise dangerous to humans, animals or the land.

“Sound science supports that RR canola does not impose any food safety and environmental risks, even when grazed by livestock.

“Justice Martin concluded that the de-certification of Mr Marsh’s property was unsupportable by a proper application of the relevant NASAA organic standards and that it was a gross over reaction by the NCO.”

Mr Wilson – former grains committee chairman of the WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association which supported Mr Baxter - said the important precedent set by this case has “reverberated around the nation”.

But the case could drag on for another six to 12 months after Mr Marsh’s legal representative, Slater & Gordon Commercial Litigation Lawyer Mark Walter, last month confirmed a notice of appeal had been filed in the Court of Appeal, regarding the case of Marsh v Baxter.

“Details of the grounds for appeal will be filed with the Court in due course,” Mr Walter said.

Mr Baxter has declined to comment on the appeal but confirmed to Fairfax Agricultural Media he recently answered an urgent call for assistance from Mr Marsh’s brother, Gary Marsh, to help plant this year’s crop.

He said the response occurred after Gary encountered tractor issues and he phoned for help to finish off seeding 200 hectares of barley and oats on his Kojonup farm.

Mr Baxter said his farm shares boundaries with the farms of both Marsh brothers but neither of them grows canola.

He said while it was paid work which took about five days it was more of a “love job”.

“It’s funny isn’t it, but I’ve got one brother who’s my neighbour who’s been trying to sue me and the other one who needed my help to plant his crop,” he said.

“I probably should have been doing my own work but Gary’s a good neighbour and that’s just what you do when you’re farming.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


5/07/2014 7:01:52 AM

These politicians are surprising me with their naivety (including u Barnaby). This is a very complex issue, megachem would not put a GM technology out there in the early days which would raise alarm bells. So far reduced spray bills in cotton and control of radish in canola, all good, I have no problems. BUT, my concern that by appearing harmless we will open the door to technologies we know little about and when combined with this TPP rubbish we will be caught. Take it from a farmer, this is not about green alarmism Mr Wilson, this is about realising the potential for things to go wrong.
Bob Phelps
5/07/2014 2:38:12 PM

The GM industry must pay for the damage it causes. Farmer Protection laws should be passed, to levy 50 cents/kg on all GM seed sold. These funds would be used to create a compensation fund, so anyone GM contaminated would be automatically paid without suing a neighbour. Before parliament, Mr Wilson belonged to the PGA, a noisy minority. WA has 4,300 grain growers but less than 1/4 grow GM canola. The majority, GM-free conventional & organic growers, are threatened by GM contamination as they would suffer big economic losses if their present premium of up to $70/tonne for GM-free were lost.
John Newton
7/07/2014 6:56:24 AM

Ir the opposite could be argued. with statistics Herbicide-resistant crop technology has led to a 239 million kilogram (527 million pound) increase in herbicide use in the United States between 1996 and 2011, while Bt crops have reduced insecticide applications by 56 million kilograms (123 million pounds). Overall, pesticide use increased by an estimated 183 million kgs (404 million pounds), or about 7%.
7/07/2014 7:26:07 AM

So what you are saying WTF is that the precautionary principle should be applied to agriculture. Sadly, your opinion means farmers will also miss out on technology's that are benificial. Just for one moment think about what you are saying instead of just defaulting to the alarmist/protectionist view everytime you take to the keyboard. Wilson is correct in everything he says. The Green movemnet used an organic grower for political purposes but failed in their quest to force the GM grower to abide by rules he never saw. Its as simple as that folks. A new precedent was not established!!
7/07/2014 7:36:51 AM

This is a complex issue as the organic community loses its certification where there is contamination, the GM community loses in the long game as the industry becomes monopolised (assuming that seed grown will germinate - ask Mr Baxter if he can harvest his crop and resow some of the seed), pesticide/herbicide resitant strains are emerging and a wedge is driven between neighbours/communities. As with most things there is usually a balance to be struck and this situation appears to be no different. The Ag sector in conjunction with Government needs to examine this in depth for the long-term.
7/07/2014 8:22:03 AM

No, Mick, u have it completely wrong. The anti-gm groups wanted the public to believe this is a complex issue when in fact it was always simple. The defence team has never changed its position, stating right from the outset that this issue is about how the organic certifiers interpreted their own rules. The judge's verdict says there was no grounds to decertify the organic grower and clearly saw the motive behind the organic industry. GM canola is just like any other crop, it's marketable, widely adopted and puts more money in farmers' pockets. The truth has become very inconvenient for the anti's.
7/07/2014 8:25:19 AM

Herbicide resistance was around before any GM turned up. go ask a Geraldton wheat grower. Nature fights back, doesn't stand still, most of the chemicals used on flystrike are no longer effective at original rates. Bob, how about a levy on those hippies for all the diseases & pests that migrate from their farms? The organic community is way too precious. Eight plants you could hand pick.
GM Canola Grower
7/07/2014 8:37:45 AM

The PGA got you a beauty, Bob, they are definitely the minority here in WA but, unlike yourself, they tend to mount rational arguments. Take 'em on at your own peril!
7/07/2014 8:47:34 AM

John Newton, very misleading statistics, how about you quote them in a kg/ha or pound/acre figures on herbicide use. GM has correlated with an overall increase in absolute herbicide use only because there is more hectares of crop going in.
7/07/2014 9:13:13 AM

Politicians arguing the case for their corporate sponsors without using the facts as usual. The use of herbicides in GM crops has increased exponentially every year since the introduction of these crops. There is no argument that can be raised on this, the facts are clear. Politicians used to look after their electorate, now they focus on the corporate.
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