Organic vs GM: Aussie farmers square up in court

A landmark court case is currently underway in Perth, Australia, with an organic farmer suing his neighbour for loss of income after his property was allegedly contaminated by genetically modified canola.

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According to Perth Now, Steve Marsh, a sheep and organic oats and rye farmer, claimed seed from neighbour Michael Baxter’s GM canola blew into his pastures in 2010, causing Marsh to lose his organic certification on half his farm and preventing him from exporting the crop as organic.

Marsh is seeking AUS$85 000 (R844 000) in compensation and wants the court to prevent Baxter from growing GM crops on his farm in Kojonup, 250km south-east of Perth.

“Any farmer should take reasonable steps to stop their farming activities from affecting their neighbours’ or public land. That applies across the board and is not unique to GM crops. Policymakers and organisations representing all farming systems should continue working together to ensure that no farmer is exposed to unnecessary economic risk.” said Magda du Toit, spokesperson for Monsanto Sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Centre for Biosafety (ACB) executive director Mariam Mayet said there have, to date, been no reported cases in SA about GM contamination leading to socio-economic harm. “This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Relationships between the GM seed companies and commercial farmers are characterised by secrecy. If there are problems with contamination, we won’t necessarily know about it,” said Mayet.

"There is a de facto ban on GM canola in SA because of its ‘promiscuous’ nature which sees it outcross into other species," added Mayet.

Monsanto however said that no ban existed on Canola. “We have been asked by the industry to test GM canola but Monsanto took a responsible business decision a couple of years ago that we would not test this as there is a weed (Rhaphanus sp. or wild radish) in the Western Cape that is remotely related to canola and even if the possibility of cross pollination is very slight, we decided not to consider GM canola for South Africa until there is more clarity about this. So this has never been banned.”

“The court decision will affect the entire agriculture sector in Australia,” said du Toit.