Lobby groups have come out in support of a Western Australian farmer who will challenge the WA Supreme Court’s decision to overrule his claim that his land had been contaminated by genetically modified canola grown by his neighbour.
Steve Marsh lost organic certification for most of his farm when his neighbour’s GM canola contaminated his crop in 2010. His only legal recourse was to sue the neighbour, Michael Baxter, but the court rejected his compensation claim at the end of February.
According to Ben Copeman, general manager of the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia’s first organic certifier, a positive outcome of the appeal will provide greater certainty for Australia’s organic and non GM conventional sectors.
“A lot of the commentary in the wake of [the] ruling has been misinformed and may be academic if the decision is overturned,” Copeman said.
“The original decision has the potential to affect the vast majority of Australia’s conventional growers who choose not to grow GM, as well certified organic farmers.
“On behalf of all organic producers and consumers, NASAA has drawn a line in the sand on the issue of GM in the organic food chain because our markets demand a zero tolerance of GM. In addition, both farmers and consumers have the right to choose what they grow and what they eat.”
Pressure from China
Representatives of the NASAA visited Beijing last week to meet with its Chinese partners, who made it clear that GM contamination would be viewed dimly by China’s organic regulators.
“The message from our producers, from our export customers, and from the consumer is that they don’t want GM in organic products at all. We also know that our biggest grain markets do not want GM in their conventional food chains and have zero tolerance to GM contamination,” said Copeman, who called on the GM, conventional non-GM and organic agriculture segments to work together on protocols on how they can successfully co-exist.
“We’ve always maintained that everyone needs to respect each other’s right to farm in the way they choose. We’ve also maintained that procedures and protocols need to be regularly reviewed to make sure that they remain relevant and to help prevent cases like Marsh vs Baxter happening in future.”
Another group, Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering (MADGE), said it was “alarmed” by the WA Supreme Court’s judgement, and now believes the “right to farm and eat GM-free is now in doubt”, according to Jessica Harrison, MADGE’s co-founder.
“GM crops cause unfair stress and set farmer against farmer. Liability for GM contamination is accepted by the GM farmer when they grow a GM crop. This judgement may be in his favour, but Michael Baxter signed an unfair contract where Monsanto, the owner of the patent, has no responsibility for GM contamination.”
The world organic market is estimated to be worth around A$60bn (US$56.5bn), with the Australian market weighing in A$1.3bn (US$1.2bn). Forecasts consistently project positive growth in both domestic and international markets.
In March, NASAA signed a world-first agreement with a leading Chinese certification body, Beijing WuYue HuaXia Management and Technique Centre (CHC), to streamline the process of organic certification for the export of Australian products to China.
The agreement is the only one of its kind in the world, allowing NASAA-trained, CHC-approved inspectors to certify Australian products to Chinese organic regulations for export to China.
“NASAA is getting on with business and we will continue to facilitate access to global organic markets for Australian organic products including the highly regulated Chinese organic market,” Copeman said.