Common law rights and the ability of Australian farmers to protect their crops from genetically modified contamination will be tested in a landmark case lodged in the West Australian Supreme Court.
A writ lodged in the Supreme Court today on behalf of Kojonup farmer Stephen Marsh will test the common law rights of property owners to recover losses as a result of genetically modified contamination on their land and their rights to prevent future contamination.
The legal action has been taken after approximately 70 per cent of Mr Marsh’s farm was stripped of its organic certification in 2010.
The claim, lodged by law firm Slater and Gordon, alleges Mr Marsh’s property was contaminated by GM canola seed from his neighbour’s property. It is alleged that the canola seed was blown onto Mr Marsh’s property contaminating his land before harvest and causing the substantial loss of the farm’s organic status.
Slater and Gordon, Practice Group Leader, Mark Walter said Mr Marsh was seeking damages for the loss of his organic certification and a permanent injunction to protect his farm from future contamination.
He said the cost of the contamination is yet to be fully determined as Mr Marsh is yet to regain his organic certification status, and is still suffering an annual yield financial loss as a result.
“At the moment Mr Marsh has no protection against contamination unless he seeks an order of the court. It’s unfortunate that this is necessary, but it must be done if Mr Marsh is able to protect his farm and livelihood.
“This is a big step; no one wants to be suing their neighbour, especially in a farming community. However once the full extent of the ongoing losses was clear Mr Marsh really had no choice but to go to court.”
Slater and Gordon is conducting Mr Marsh's case as a public interest case. The case is also being supported by the Safe Food Foundation.
Safe Food Foundation Director Scott Kinnear said Mr Marsh’s case would be an important test case both within Australia and internationally. We have been contacted by people in Europe and Canada who are watching this case closely.
“It’s the first time that Australian laws about competing land uses involving GM and non-GM crops have been tested,” Kinnear said.
“There are many other farms that have suffered contamination in Australia. The result of this case could clarify how farmer’s legal rights apply in these situations,” Mr Kinnear said.
The Safe Food Foundation was recently established to bring focus and scrutiny to bear on the risks arising from unsafe agricultural and food industry practices and technologies, and to promote awareness of the health, social, economic, and environmental effects of food production and consumption.