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WA organic farmer sues neighbour over GM contamination

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Media Release

Published on

A farmer from Western Australia’s Great Southern is suing his neighbour after being stripped of his organic certification because genetically modified (GM) canola seed contaminated his land.

Leading law firm Slater and Gordon will lodge a writ in the WA Supreme Court on behalf of Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh. The claim will allege his neighbour, Michael Baxter, was negligent in allowing GM Canola to blow into the Marsh property before  harvest,  contaminating his land, and causing the loss of organic status.

About 70 per cent of Mr Marsh’s farm is now unusable for organic farming.

Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Mark Walter said this is the first case of its kind in Australia that he is aware of.

“This is a landmark case. It will examine the legal rights of farmers to choose how and what they farm on their land. It’s the first time Australian laws about competing land uses involving GM and non-GM crops has been tested.”

“Sadly, the past seven months have been a nightmare for my client. Mr Marsh went to great lengths to ensure everyone knew of the strict organic status applicable to his farm, and that any cross contamination would be disastrous. Despite those warnings he’s lost 10 years of work to build up his organic status.”

Mr Marsh said he hoped his case would help others in similar situations.

“There are many other farms that have suffered cross contamination in Australia. The result of this case could clarify what rights these farmers have.”

Mr Marsh said he had suffered great financial hardship and his farm would now face an uncertain future.

“We’ve had our farm for 20 years but since losing our organic accreditation last December we haven’t been able to fulfil contracts for produce.

“We have invested a great amount of time and money to bring organic produce to market. Now all that hard work has been for nothing.

“We’ve now involved law firm Slater and Gordon and the fund-raising organisation The Safe Food Foundation to take up our fight to recover damages,“ he said.