Jayne Rickard, The West Australian, 29 July 2011
The State Opposition and anti-GM activists say the landmark legal battle brewing between two neighbours and former friends over the alleged contamination of an organic property is the “tip of the iceberg”.
Kojonup farmer Steve Marsh’s decision to pursue genetically modified canola grower Michael Baxter has divided the farming sector over competing land uses and a farmer’s right to farm his property.
After Mr Marsh found GM canola seeds on his property in December 2010, organic certifier the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture removed accreditation from more than 70 per cent of his farm.
“It’s all been a difficult decision,” Mr Marsh said. “Nobody likes to take their neighbour to court in a small community. This whole thing has been very sad
“The issue for me is the loss of my rights in a democratic society to farm my land as I choose to.”
The fifth-generation farmer said he feared it would take years to regain his organic status.
Shadow agriculture minister Mick Murray said legal action was “inevitable” because of lack of strong GM regulations. Farmers across Australia were watching the case.
Mr Murray said the outcome would determine what responsibilities farmers should take to contain their crops within a certain area.
“All of Australia is watching this issue because it means not only organic but GM versus non-GM,” he said. “It’s about keeping what is yours inside your fence.”
Mr Murray said people were certainly “sitting on the fence” Australia-wide waiting to see the outcome.
Safe Food Foundation director Scott Kinnear said it would support Mr Marsh’s action because it defended farmers’ rights to “grow GM free”.
He expected enormous financial support from consumers and farmers for the action and would seek public endorsement from leading chefs.
He hoped the action would “establish a pathway forward for farmers to feel confident about what they do”.
Agriculture Minister Terry Redman declined to comment.