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.”