Australian organic farmer forced to pay over US$600k after losing GM crop court battle

© Erik De Castro
An Australian farmer who tried to sue his neighbor after claiming his organic business was ruined after genetically-modified (GM) canola blew on to his fields will now have to pay over US$600,000 in costs after a stay of order was lifted.

Steve Marsh took his neighbor and childhood friend Michael Baxter to court in February 2014 for negligence over the alleged contamination of the land that Marsh used for growing organic oat and wheat crops in Kojonup, 250km southeast of Perth, Western Australia. 

Marsh said he had lost organic certification for 70 percent for crops produced at his farm because his land had become contaminated by Baxter’s herbicide-resistant canola crop. Marsh had been initially seeking US$60,000 in compensation, but now he will have to pay US$610,000 in costs to his neighbor after the Western Australian Court of Appeal ruled against him. 

The original case was dismissed in 2014 by the Supreme Court, who said that Baxter had not acted in a negligent manner and could not be held responsible for growing a GM crop in a conventional way. 

In September 2015, the Court of Appeal dismissed Marsh’s appeal following a two-to-one verdict and also awarded costs to Baxter, while an application to take the case to the High Court was rejected in February. 

The world’s leading genetically-engineered seed producer Monsanto had been helping Baxter to cover his court costs. Monsanto collects royalties from the sale of GM canola seed, which was used by Baxter on his farm. 

"It was only fair that the Baxter’s received much needed support given the extensive fundraising efforts of Steve Marsh's supporters,” said Monsanto Australia's Managing Director Daniel Kruithoff in April, as cited by ABC News. 

"Monsanto Australia contributed to the Baxter’s legal costs to ensure they could defend themselves in court,” he added.

Meanwhile, Marsh has been supported by the Australian-based Safe Food Foundation and Institute, which has been trying to raise money to support the anti-GM farmer’s legal campaign. 

“Steve Marsh is a hero – he is risking everything to stand up for something he believes in – to grow the GM-free organic crops that consumers want,” said Scott Kinnear, director of the Safe Food Foundation. 

“Without protection for farmers like Steve Marsh, we will have fewer and fewer options to purchase GM-free food.”