LAWYERS representing Kojonup organic farmer, Steve Marsh, have today announced intentions to lodge a writ in the WA Supreme Court to claim compensation over alleged losses and damages, against his Genetically Modified canola growing neighbours.
Last November, GM canola was detected on Mr Marsh’s farm, raising public and grains industry awareness for Australia’s first GM related property rights test case.
Last season was the first time GM canola was permitted to be grown in WA, after Victoria and NSW lifted is bans for the 2008 planting season.
Mr Marsh today announced he has retained Slater & Gordon Lawyers with the intention to lodge a writ against his neighbours, Mick and Zanthe Baxter, over alleged negligence for allowing the canola to enter his property.
The Baxters have been advised by their lawyers not to comment on the issue but it’s understood they had not received any formal notification of the legal action, as of Wednesday.
It’s understood Mr Marsh’s lawyers intend to lodge the writ in the next three weeks.
Stater & Gordon lawyer, Mark Walter, has declined to reveal the amount of damages being claimed by his client.
But he has described it as a “landmark case” that will “examine the rights of farmers to choose how and what they farm on their land”.
In addition, Mr Marsh will now be supported with fundraising through the Safe Food Foundation, an organic lead organisation also partnering with Friends of the Earth Australia.
The GM swaths are reported to have travelled an estimated 3 kilometres; moving 800 metres from within Baxter’s farm and landing 2.2/km’s inside the Marsh’s fence line.
Mr Marsh self tested the alleged incursion and reported it to his certifying body, the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), which has a zero tolerance for GM canola.
NASAA declared 70 percent of Mr Marsh’s 400 hectare farm as non-organic, until the GM material is removed.
The Baxters are being supported the WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association, which has established a defence fund to support them in the event any legal action is taken by Mr Marsh.
They have received no financial support from Monsanto or the State government, as alleged by Mr Marsh’s supporters.
Despite the threat of legal action, the Baxters doubled their GM canola plantings in this year’s cropping program due to satisfaction with the technology’s performance.
PGA President, Rob Gillam, said any issue over negligence was “clearly an issue of co-existence between farmers”.
“You cannot have one farmer imposing unrealistic rules or regulations upon their neighbours,” he said in reference to NASAA’s zero tolerance limit for GM canola which has been roundly criticised in commentary on the issue by farming groups, such as Grain Producers Australia.
“Zero tolerance in any issue can only be achieved in a controlled laboratory environment and is not practical in a real world.
“This is clearly an issue of one neighbour disagreeing with another neighbour and should be dealt with in the normal course of business rather than dragging it through the court of public opinion.”
In a media statement issued today, The Safe Food Foundation director and long standing organic industry representative, Scott Kinnear, said the Foundation had taken on the coordination of fundraising as a major project in support of Mr Marsh and “the right of farmers everywhere to grow GM-free foods; which ultimately equals consumers right to buy and eat GM-free foods and to avoid potentially dangerous toxic GM foods”.
In the media release, Mr Marsh said he was “pleased and relieved that the Safe Food Foundation is fundraising to help my cause and making it possible for me to take legal action through Slater & Gordon Lawyers”.
“I just hope my case helps other farmers out there because if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” he said.
Mr Marsh, Mr Kinnear and Mr Walter are due to hold a media conference today at the Slater & Gordon office in Perth.
Mr Marsh has also acknowledged the issue is dividing the Kojonup community.
GPA Chairman, Peter Mailler, has expressed prior concerns about the volume of misinformation that has escalated the GM “contamination” issue since it started late last year, mostly generated by the anti-GM movement and Greenpeace.
Mr Mailler says the GM farmer had in fact fully exercised his duty of care, done nothing wrong and did not deserve to be “demonised”.
The Baxters were audited by the WA Agriculture Department and proven to have complied with the State government regulations allowing them to grow GM canola; including the mandatory 5 metre buffer zone.
But in today’s media statement, Mr Kinnear said the 5 metre buffer zone was “grossly inadequate”.
Greenpeace issued a media statement on the legal challenge today, saying “Steve Marsh is ultimately defending the rights of Australians to choose safe, sustainable and healthy food”.
On July 14, Greenpeace activists destroyed government approved GM wheat trials at CSIRO in Canberra in an attempt to seek publicity over the issue and were roundly criticised by farming groups, Federal politicians and the scientific community.
The Australian Federal Police are investigating the matter and raided the Greenpeace head office in Sydney last week but have yet to lay charges.