Landmark GM case handed down in WA

Organic farmer's lawsuit against neighbour who planted a GM crop has been dismissed in WA.
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01.GM contamination suit dismissed

baskets of vegetables with not genetically modified sign

The WA Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking damages of $85,000 filed by an organic farmer against his neighbour, who planted genetically-modified (GM) canola that blew onto his farm. Steve Marsh also wanted the court to stop neighbour Michael Baxter from planting more GM crops in the future.

What happened?

Several hundred cut canola plants were carried by the wind onto the Marsh property, which farmed cereal crops and lamb, and was certified as organic by the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia's (NASAA) certifying organisation NCO. This led to the NCO pulling their certification of over 70% of the Marsh’s property for three years.

The judge said there was no evidence of the Marsh farm being cross-contaminated because no canola was grown there, meaning cross-germination couldn't occur. According to the judgment, Baxter couldn’t be held legally responsible for the NCO’s “unjustifiable reaction to what occurred”.

More work needed in GM labelling

Professor Rachel Ankeny, a bioethicist at the University of Adelaide who has served on the South Australian advisory committee on GM, believes the case was muddied by the GM debate. “Contrary to some of the propaganda out there, this case was not about the public's right to avoid (or choose) particular types of food products, nor was it about whether GM crops should be permitted or organic ones preferred,” she says. “What remains a key ethical issue relating to public choice is the need for better labelling and information provision on both GM and non-GM foods, which is increasingly being demanded by consumers."

CHOICE’s position on GM

CHOICE's position is that foods with GM ingredients should be labelled in order to help consumers make informed decisions about what they eat. The full impact of GM technologies on health and the environment is not yet known and we believe consumers should have the capacity to make informed choices. There are loopholes in the current GM labelling laws that mean this is not always the case.

CHOICE has a long history of action related to GM foods. In fact, we initiated the first Australian consensus conference on genetically modified organisms in 1999, which created the Gene Technology Regulator. CHOICE has since fought attempts to water down GM labelling. More recently, we have campaigned for the closure of loopholes in GM labelling laws throughout consultation on the Blewett Review of food labelling, but the response from this major, independent review was disappointing. 



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