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eNews from Monday, February 10, 2014

GMO Canola Crops Case in Australia Could Set World Precedent

Cape Argus -- SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA -- February 10, 2014 --  Two neighbouring farmers, a field of canola and a gust of wind are at the centre of a landmark court case that could have consequences for the controversial growing of genetically modified crops in Australia.

Steve Marsh was suing former childhood friend Michael Baxter after harvested seed heads from Baxter's genetically modified canola crop blew on to Marsh's farm in Western Australia, court documents said, contaminating land used for his organic oat and wheat crops.

Marsh, stripped of his organic certification and export licence for his oats, is claiming unspecified damages for loss of income in the civil negligence case, which opened today in the West Australian Supreme Court.

"People around the world are going to be looking at this," said Michael Blakeney, a law professor at the University of Western Australia who does advisory work for the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation.

Baxter bought the seeds from Monsanto, the world's largest seed company. After getting legal advice, Marsh opted not to sue the US firm because of a non-liability contract Monsanto signs with all farmers.

The case could change Australia's unique zero-tolerance status for contamination of organic crops, they said. The US, the EU and Japan allow trace amounts of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in organic f0oods.

"If the organic people don't win the case, there will be a lot of pressure brought to bear for a change to the organic standard and that might remove some of the difficulties of co-existence," said Joe Lederman, managing principal at FoodLegal, a Melbourne law firm specialising in food and agribusiness.

The case brought by Marsh, 49, is splitting loyalties in the area, where many farmers use GMO methods.

GMO critics say the spread of genetically modified crops hurts the environment, most notably by fostering herbicide-resistant weeds, and that food made with the crops can harm humans. Proponents say the crops are proven safe and that the proper use of chemicals by farmers can mitigate environmental problems.

Law firm Slater and Gordon is working pro bono on Marsh's case, on the basis it has broad public interest.

In the US, rising cases of contamination by GMO crops led the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association to issue new guidelines and protective practices for organic growers last week. - Reuters

Cape Argus

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