Neighboring farmers fight landmark Australian GMO court case
Monsanto declined to comment on whether it was giving financial assistance to Baxter for the legal action, an accusation leveled by Marsh's supporters, saying only it was not a party to the case.
Its non-liability contracts were made to "ensure that growers comply with the agreed use of our products, industry stewardship standards and regulatory requirements," Adam Blight, a Monsanto spokesman in Australia, said by e-mail.
Monsanto was not making any preparations in light of the possible outcomes of the case, he said.
"This is a regrettable situation and it has been a difficult case for the farmers and communities involved," Blight added.
Organic farmers see the threat from the hearing on two fronts.
In the event Standards Australia does not change its zero tolerance policy, farmers risk losing organic certification due to contamination, particularly as GMO production increases.
Alternatively, an easing of the policy would result in Australia losing its position on world markets as a strict organic producer as demand for GMO-free food increases around the world, particularly in Asia.
Demand for safe and nutritious food is forecast to soar across Asia over the next five years, with consumer spending predicted by the Economist Intelligence Unit to rise to $3.7 trillion from $2.8 trillion in 2012.
Yet laws governing GMO production and contamination are opaque, varying from Australian state to state and crop to crop.
Confusing matters further, there are no regulations on buffer zones between GMO and organic crops, with Standards Australia recommending a minimum of 15 meters, compared with the 5 meter minimum recommended by Monsanto.
Lederman from FoodLegal said the case was likely to result in more formal and homogenous regulations on buffer zones.
In the United States, where more biotech crops are grown than anywhere else in the world, rising cases of contamination by GMO crops led the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association to last week issue new guidelines and protective practices for organic growers.
Those cases have centered around the issue of intellectual property and involved Monsanto directly, rather than the farmer vs farmer negligence issue in the Australian case.
Monsanto has routinely sued U.S. farmers who it says intentionally plant its biotech seeds without paying for the technology.
As those cases have increased in number, the U.S. organic association sought pre-emptive protection for farmers whose fields were inadvertently contaminated with crops containing the company's genetic modifications.
But legal action by the association to try to force Monsanto to issue a "blanket covenant" to promise not to sue for inadvertent contamination was rejected last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing the company to continue to bring lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.
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