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Steve Marsh, an organic farmer in Western Australia, has lost his final bid in his landmark genetic modification contamination lawsuit against his neighboring farmer, Michael Baxter, who planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) canola.
Marsh claimed that he lost organic certification on approximately 70 percent of his property in Kojonup, Perth after winds carried his neighbor’s Roundup Ready canola seeds onto his farm in 2010.
— Bridget Fitzgerald (@msbfitzgerald) February 12, 2016
Australia has a zero-tolerance organic standard concerning GMO contamination on organic lands and Marsh sought $85,000 in damages against his neighbor and former childhood friend.
Marsh lost the lawsuit in a May 2014 ruling from the Supreme Court of Western Australia and was ordered instead to pay court costs of about $804,000. He appealed the decision to the West Australian court of appeal but in September, the court instead ruled in favor of Baxter.
Today, after six years of legal wrangling, the High Court rejected Marsh’s bid for leave to appeal against that ruling.
Left with no further avenue of appeal, Marsh told Australia’s ABC News that he was very disappointed. “We lost our income, practically half our growing income for three years, but it appears that we can’t claim compensation for that, it’s extraordinary,” he said, adding that while the court case had cost millions of dollars, it was an important issue for the organic industry.
“I will try and hang onto our farm, it is our business and we will try and do the best we can,” Marsh said. “I think that this case has highlighted that more than ever and issues about food and its safety and how we produce it.”
Baxter told ABC News he was relieved about the result, describing the process as “six years of rigamarole.”
— The West Australian (@westaustralian) February 12, 2016
This case highlights the challenges facing organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by GMOs, Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, said.
“They suffer economic losses and have no recourse to regain those losses and such contamination can ruin their organic certification and make potential buyers leery of buying their crops,” Roseboro told EcoWatch. “The situation is very unjust and biotech/pesticide companies should be held liable for their contaminating GMOs. This case also shows that so-called coexistence of GMOs and organics is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when there is no liability on the GMO producers or companies.”
Lawyers told Reuters in May that a win for Marsh on the grounds of trespass would have led to new rules, such as larger buffer zones between GMO and organic farmers, potentially curbing the amount of GMO canola being planted.
Opponents of the suit claim it would have burdened GMO farmers with more rules and potentially restrict the amount of crops a farmer could plant.
Incidentally, Monsanto admitted last year that it financially supported Baxter’s legal defense.
“Although we were not a party to the litigation, we respect Michael and Zanthe Baxter’s choice to defend themselves. Their neighbor initiated a legal claim against them when they were responsibly growing a safe and legal crop, as was clearly established in the Supreme Court’s verdict,” Monsanto Australia’s managing director Daniel Kruithoff said in a statement.
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