Farmers’ right to farm GM-free food at stake in landmark case

A world-first court case due to start in the Western Australian Supreme Court next week will test the legal rights of farmers and could determine the future of farming practices and costs in Australia.
Slater & Gordon is representing Steve Marsh, a WA farmer who is suing his neighbour, Michael Baxter, for negligence over the alleged contamination of his organic property near Kojonup, south-east of Perth.

Mr Marsh lost organic certification on 70% of his land in 2010 after genetically modified canola swathes and seed blew onto his property.

Slater & Gordon Commercial and Project Litigation lawyer Mark Walter said the trial was a landmark case that could have implications beyond the organic industry and could impact the conventional farming industry.

“It will test the legal rights of farmers to choose how and what they farm on their land,” Mr Walter said.

“The case is about freedom of choice. Conventional and organic farmers must be able to co-exist and there needs to be an effective compensation system in place in the event cross-contamination occurs.

“Australia has the most certified organic land in the world and this case could impact on Australia’s reputation as a world leader in organics.”

Mr Marsh said he was seeking damages and a permanent injunction to protect his farm from future contamination.

“We have invested a lot of work, time and money over the last decade to become organically certified and help develop our markets,” Mr Marsh said.

“As a result of this GM canola contamination of our land and all the ramifications of that, we have now suffered great financial hardship and an uncertain future.”

The trial is due to start in the WA Supreme Court in Perth on Monday, 10 February. Mr Marsh will be one of up to 20 witnesses, including international experts

Slater & Gordon have released an Organic Industry Fact Sheet that highlights the growing importance of the industry, worth $655.3 million to the Australian economy. Globally, the organic industry has grown more than three-fold over the past decade.

Slater & Gordon is conducting Mr Marsh’s trial as a public interest case.

5 February 2014