GM canola battle heats up

28 Jul, 2011 09:55 AM

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.

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Madeleine Love
28/07/2011 11:16:37 AM, on Farm Weekly

I'd like to meet with Mr Maillor and talk about what he has been reported to describe as "misinformation".
28/07/2011 12:07:51 PM, on Farm Weekly

Mmm....I am having a hard time trying to figure out how the canola travelled three kms........seeds eaten and moved by animals?
spare us
28/07/2011 1:05:58 PM, on Farm Weekly

Madeleine my love you need to check your spelling before you open your mouth.
28/07/2011 3:07:58 PM, on Farm Weekly

Good on him. I'd rather eat GM free any day. Where do I donate to his legal fund.
Madeleine Love
28/07/2011 4:27:19 PM, on Farm Weekly

Apologies to Mr Mailler for misspelling his name. Spare us your 'my love' term of endearment. Pete; I can't verify the 3km details but dry swathed canola is very light, reported to have been picked up by wind and I suppose progressively blown across the land.
28/07/2011 4:55:45 PM, on Farm Weekly

Pete..have you never seen the result of a 'willy-willy'? It can move a shed from one side of the paddock to the other.... a friend found her pig shed in a tree last year....swathed canola is nothing to move a few kms. This was a disaster waiting to happen, and it the state government had introduced Strict Liability these two farming families woud not have to battle it out like this.
Farmer Ricky
28/07/2011 9:58:56 PM, on Farm Weekly

NO GM means NO GM. Standard AS6000, agreed by all Australian governments and the organic industry sets zero tolerance for any use of, or contact with, GM processes or products. If those who see a "Transgenic" future are really serious our "coexistence" and cooperation with the non GM farming industry then they must accept the present Australian Organics standards and find ways to keep GM segregated in the fields, in grain stores and from those who do not wish to grow or eat GM.
28/07/2011 10:58:03 PM, on Farm Weekly

Ever heard of wind, Pete? Spare us, who gives a damn about spelling? This is a debate about the safety and security of our food and the manipulation of regulators, politicians and scientists in the payroll of multinational chemical and seeds corporations. The misinformation refered to by Mr Mailor is actually leaking facts coming from within the GMO research and development laboratories by concerned scientists and whistleblowers lifting the lid on suppressed sensitive findings. I am relieved that an industry body has stood up and announced support for Mr Marsh.
29/07/2011 8:07:41 AM, on Farm Weekly

Maybe it just doesn't get that windy where I am, but I have been growing canola for 10 years and have yet to see it move that far.....and if it was wind wouldn't it be spread from the canola crop all the way to the point where it was found 3 kms away? I am not saying it wasn't wind and we are dealing with a couple of the fact here, but it just seems strange to me that the canola didn't just jump the fence, it jumped 3kms.......something just doesn't quite seem right to me. Please don't think i'm an idiot by posting statements like "have you ever heard of wind". Of cause I have........
29/07/2011 8:23:28 AM, on Farm Weekly

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