The WA Australian Supreme Court has taken the decision to publish all the transcripts, opening and closing addresses and witness statements online. It will take a while to read and if you have the time is recommended. It will show that the evidence is strongly in Steve’s favour, that Mr Baxter knew Steve was organic, that he could not tolerate GM canola on his farm and that he would lose his certification if it got on there. Despite this Mr Baxter planted next to Steve’s farm instead of further back and then to make matters worse, swathed (mowed, raked and windrowed) the GM canola and left it to dry for several weeks. It was during this time that the winds came up and blew the GM canola onto Steve’s farm.
Mr Baxter’s lawyers have argued that NASAA (Steve’s organic cerfifier) made a mistake in decertifying Steve and that he did not get contamination of end product. Essentially they are hoping to have Steve’s case dismissed because of this! This argument dismisses the intention and operation of organic standards and certification. The NASAA standard is written with the clear requirement that GM cannot be tolerated. The sanction of decertifying Steve’s farm was designed to remove the risk of contamination of GM in Steve’s end product. To suggest end product contamination is the only measure for decertification is unacceptable to consumers who understand organic agriculture is a system that is kind to animals, beneficial to the environment and seeks to remove the risk of GM and chemical contamination.
We learned that hundreds of GM canola plants containing thousands of seeds landed on Steve’s farm. NASAA had no alternative but to decertify his farm to manage the risk of contamination. Only a small number of mature plants were found in the next growing season and none the year after. NASAA fast tracked the re-certification of Steve’s farm in November 2013. (There may have been more eaten by sheep that Steve did not find). Given the evidence of GM canola volunteer plants from field trials in Tasmania now more than ten years after they took place, NASAA could have left Steve de-certified for more years waiting to see if any more volunteer GM canola plants came up.
If Steve wins then organic and Non GM agriculture can farm confident that their neighbours have to consider their sensitivities. We would expect organic and Non GM farmers to alert their neighbours to their sensitivity to GM and pointing out the methods of GM contamination and how they can be avoided. The GM industry would not fall over. GM canola growing would still be viable and would still continue albeit with GM farmers being more careful. The precedent set will mean that GM farmers will be very careful about proximity of GM to Non GM canola and the practice of swathing.
If Steve loses then the GM industry is free to farm GM without regard to an organic or Non GM farmer neighbour. We would expect to see contamination events rise rapidly as at least now the voluntary guidelines make it clear that GM farmers should try and avoid contaminating organic and Non GM. That volunary caution may be thrown to the wind – literally! Organic farming would be under cost pressures to try and contain contamination on their farms at their expense and with GM wheat as early as 2017 we would be facing a grim future.
What we would like to see moving forward
The voluntary guidelines should be codified into legislation and strengthened. GM farmers should be subject to penalties for breaches of the laws. Buffer zones for GM next to Non GM canola within a certain distance and a ban on swathing within a certain distance should be introduced. A compensation scheme funded by the GM industry should be established so that farmer versus farmer common law action is NOT the mechanism for supporting farmers like Steve who suffer loss and damage through GM contamination.
Steve Marsh’s court case finished on Feb 28, 2014, and although we are not sure when the verdict will be out, we will put an update on our website as soon as we know the outcome of this important landmark case that could change the future of farming in Australia and beyond. Steve’s legal costs have not been fully covered yet, so please consider making a donation if you can afford it.