Neighboring farmers fight landmark Australian GMO court case
"If the organic people don't win the case, there will be a lot of pressure brought to bear for a change to the organic standard and that might remove some of the difficulties of co-existence," said Joe Lederman, managing principle at FoodLegal, a Melbourne law firm specializing in food and agribusiness, which has represented both businesses and farmers in the past.
Kojonup, a wheat and sheep district some 250 km (156 miles) south of the West Australia state capital Perth, is a quiet, tight-knit community of farmers.
But the case brought by Marsh, 49, is splitting loyalties in the pastoral area where many farmers have turned to cutting-edge GMO production.
GMO critics say the spread of genetically modified crops hurts the environment, most notably by fostering herbicide-resistant weeds, and that food made with the crops can harm humans. Proponents say the crops are proven safe and that the proper use of the chemicals associated with the crops by farmers can mitigate environmental problems.
Marsh's decision to sue Baxter, 48, has garnered support from celebrity chefs and gardeners. Law firm Slater and Gordon is working pro bono, on the basis the case has broad public interest.
"We believe it's his right to be able to farm GM-free and have a degree of protection," said Kinnear, whose Melbourne-based group is collecting money for Marsh's other expenses, such as payments to experts and travel costs.
Marsh's lawsuit alleges that harvested seed heads from Monsanto's laboratory-created Roundup Ready canola seed blew from Baxter's property across a dirt lane and over a boundary fence in November 2010, re-germinating on Marsh's land in January 2011.
Canola is grown for its seed, which is crushed for the oil used in margarine, cooking oils, salad oils and edible oil blends.
After an inspection by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA), a certifying agency for the government-backed regulator Standards Australia, Marsh lost organic status for produce from 70 percent of his farm.
In the other corner, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia is giving financial support to Baxter.
"This is nothing more than anti-GM publicity," said PGA Western Graingrowers chairman John Snooke, who is also acting as a spokesman for Baxter. "Michael and PGA of Western Australia both believe in the farmers right to choose what he grows."
Monsanto Says Situation Regrettable
An interim ruling from the Supreme Court allowed Baxter to go ahead with his 2013 GMO canola crop, provided he harvest by a more direct method than the so-called swathing that led to the alleged contamination.
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