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Farmers in GM-free food fight

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Steve Marsh on what was once his organic certified property near Moodiarrup - is having difficulties with GM crops next door. Pic: Lee Griffith / The West Australian ***FAIRFAX ONLINE AND FINANCIAL REVIEW OUT*** 25 February 2011
Camera IconSteve Marsh on what was once his organic certified property near Moodiarrup - is having difficulties with GM crops next door. Pic: Lee Griffith / The West Australian ***FAIRFAX ONLINE AND FINANCIAL REVIEW OUT*** 25 February 2011 Credit: The West Australian

A landmark Supreme Court case involving neighbouring Kojonup farmers could determine whether consumers continue to have access to GM-free food grown in Australia, according to lawyers acting pro bono for organic grower Steve Marsh.

Slater & Gordon commercial and project litigation lawyer Mark Walter said yesterday that the trial, scheduled to start on Monday, could have implications beyond the organic industry and impact the conventional farming industry as well as consumers.

Mr Walter is representing Mr Marsh, who is suing Michael Baxter for negligence over alleged GM canola contamination.

He said that from Slater & Gordon's point of view the case was about property rights and who carried the economic burden of an escaped substance affecting a neighbour. But it was impossible to ignore the potential implications and the issues which swirled around GM.

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"As far as we know, this is the first court case of its type anywhere in the world. It will test the legal rights of farmers to choose how and what they farm on their land," Mr Walter said. "The case is about freedom of choice, for both farmers and for consumers.

"It is important that farmers retain their rights to farm GM-free food as this, in turn, will protect consumers' ability to purchase GM-free food."

The case is set to run for at least two weeks with up to 20 witnesses to give evidence, including local farmers and international experts.

Mr Marsh is seeking undisclosed damages and a permanent injunction to protect his farm from future GM contamination.

It is alleged he lost his National Association for Sustainable Agriculture organic certification after his 480ha farm was contaminated with swathed GM canola from Mr Baxter's farm in 2010.

Mr Marsh and Mr Baxter went to the same school and shared common interests in Kojonup.

Mr Baxter, who is being represented by Perth-based Bradley Bayly Legal, has not commented publicly in the lead-up to the trial. Bradley Bayly partner Brian Bradley said yesterday: "The proper venue to debate the rights and duties of parties in this action is the Supreme Court."

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