canola field

Everybody saw it coming.  Sooner or later an organic farmer was going to sue a neighbor for genetic contamination of an organic crop.  It has happened in Western Australia when Steve Marsh sued his neighbor, Michael Baxter, for allegedly contaminating Marsh’s organic fields.  The case will be monitored as groundbreaking for future cases worldwide.

Marsh alleges that wind blew Baxter’s Roundup Ready canola onto Marsh’s farm resulting in a loss of organic certification on approximately 70 percent of Marsh’s land.  Unlike the USDA’s National Organic Program, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) has a zero tolerance for genetically modified material when certifying land for organic farming.

Marsh’s attorneys allege Baxter recklessly planted his genetically modified canola crop in adjoining fields and failed to contain the GM seeds.  They also claim Baxter knew the canola seeds would naturally escape and contaminate neighboring fields.

Baxter’s attorneys counter the canola was planted within all buffer zone and notice requirements implemented by the Western Australian government since GM canola cultivation was allowed in 2010.

The lawsuit has global implications even though it will have no binding legal precedent outside Australia.  In the event Marsh prevails, organic farmers will have a model in which to build their claims for GM contamination.  However, a win for Marsh may result in Australia ditching the zero-GMO standard for organic certification to accomodate the growing use of genetically modified crops.