Freedom of Choice? - Landline - ABC
PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: A record number of farmers in the West Australian wheat belt have planted genetically modified canola this year despite premiums of up to $50 a tonne for the conventional variety.
It's a big vote of confidence in the new technology, which is set to go on trial later this year in the West Australian Supreme Court.
As Sean Murphy reports, the landmark contamination case not only pits neighbours against one another, but the industry protocols for handling GM crops.
STEVE MARSH, EAGLE REST, KOJONUP WA: My philosophy is I've come from a conventional background. I think agriculture is a bit at the T-roads at the moment and we've decided to go down a more sustainable system, we believe, and that's more of a natural farming system. Looking after your environment generally, like, you know, having diversity in your farming system and of course I also believe sustainability to be getting a reasonable price, a fair and sustainable price in that as well.
SEAN MURPHY, REPORTER: But Steve Marsh claims he can no longer earn a sustainable living. In late 2010 he lost the organic certification for most of his 480 hectare farm at Kojonup in the great southern region of Western Australia.
STEVE MARSH: Yes, this is where my neighbour grew GM canola and it blew across from a neighbour's property, across and contaminated approximately 70 per cent of my land, which is basically all of my land you can see now.
SEAN MURPHY: Now Steve Marsh is suing his next door neighbour, Michael Baxter, in the West Australian Supreme Court.
MARK WALTER, SLATER AND GORDON: The case revolves around an allegation of negligence and an allegation of nuisance, and that is that the neighbour's allowed a substance to escape from its property which has caused harm to the Marsh's. If we're not certified and can't exploit the certification we've obtained by being organic and the increase in profitability that comes with that, we're in no better position than being a conventional farmer.
SEAN MURPHY: So is a common law case like this likely to have wider implications for other forms of agriculture?
MARK WALTER: Yes, I think it's - it's cast in terms of organic and GM, but it's really GM and non-GM because all conventional farmers are in the same position. They may well find if they're contaminated with any form of GM that they suffer some economic loss when they go to sell their conventional produce, and I think it's a very important point.
SEAN MURPHY: Litigation specialists Slater and Gordon are acting for Mr Marsh for free, but the case is still likely to cost about half a million dollars. Steve Marsh says he's prepared to lose his farm to fight for what he sees as an important principle.
STEVE MARSH: It's totally about freedom of choice. The GM proponents, they've argued for their right to have the choice to grow and use GM or this tool in the toolbox. All I'm asking is for the same right: to be able to produce a GM-free product, which we've traditionally done for years.
I think that's very important because as farmers we should have the right to run our business and produce the products that we choose to. I just believe we should have the same choice. They've allowed a choice, I want the same choice.
SEAN MURPHY: Organic foods advocate Scott Kinnear is hoping to raise donations to cover the costs of the Supreme Court action. He's been filming Steve Marsh to promote the case online through the Safe Foods Foundation.
SCOTT KINNEAR, SAFE FOOD FOUNDATION: Well Safe Food Foundation has been funded by a private philanthropist, and I cannot disclose who that is, who's had a long interest in food and the development of food quality and food safety. This case would not be able to be run if we hadn't have stepped in and agreed to support the disbursements costs.
In Australia we have a chance to produce clean organic foods and we have been producing clean, organic foods and it's do or die for us now with the advent of GM canola. We have to take a stand now. We have to take that stand strongly, which is what we are doing with Steve Marsh and with using Slater and Gordon. And we will take this case with all of the vigour and energy and effort that the organic industry can muster to defend the right to farm organic food GM-free...
Continues @ Freedom of Choice - Landline - ABC:
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