Next week, there will be a further chapter in the West Australia Supreme Court
Below is the most informative article we’ve seen on the Steve Marsh GMO contamination case.
Kojonup farmers caught in epic legal battle over genetically modified canola contamination
ABC Premium News (Australia) via World-Grain.com, 16 March 2015
It started in the West Australian wheat belt with tense words between neighbours at a community working bee.
It ended up in a "genetically modified (GM) versus organic" court battle that made headlines around the world.
And next week, there will be a further chapter in the WA Supreme Court.
Speaking out for the first time in interviews for tonight's Australian Story, family members from the opposing sides have described the intense emotional impact of the legal battle.
"I never ever thought in my wildest dreams that the Marshes and Baxters would ever come to a falling out such as this," said Rose Marsh, mother of the farmer who initiated the court action.
Ms Marsh said her son Stephen's decision to explore organic production started with concerns about the overuse of chemicals in conventional agriculture and its impact on the land.
"As a farmer, I have an obligation to produce food as safely as possible," Mr Marsh said.
Stray seed pods sprout heated battle
In late 2010, seed pods from Michael Baxter's genetically modified canola blew onto Mr Marsh's property Eaglerest.
Mr Marsh threatened to take legal action after his certifying agency decertified three quarters of his property.
The conflict was harrowing for residents of the small community of Kojonup.
The two farmers had been schoolyard friends and their families had helped each other in neighbourly ways. But battlelines developed well beyond Kojonup.
Mr Marsh was adopted as the hero of lobby groups that believe the new technology threatens the public's right to healthy, safe food.
In turn, Mr Baxter was heralded by pro-GM advocates who saw him as a progressive farmer, unfairly demonised.
In February last year, WA Supreme Court justice Kenneth Martin ruled Mr Marsh's economic loss was not caused by Mr Baxter's negligence.
Costs were awarded against Mr Marsh, who now faces losing his farm.
The appeal against the court decision and the costs ruling will be heard in the Supreme Court next Monday.
The families of both Mr Marsh and Mr Baxter have described the continuing toll the legal battle has taken on all those involved.
"Stephen, to put me through what he's put me through, well, there's no forgiving that," Mr Baxter told Australian Story.
"He possibly could have done things a lot easier and come over the fence and had a chat and have a beer and maybe sorted it out a little bit different."
Mr Baxter's wife, Zanthe said, "I'm sad that something so small, some canola, has wrecked the community of Kojonup."
Mr Marsh's mother did not mince words, "I've looked on Michael as another son of mine and I find this very, very difficult."
GM approval causes controversy across Australia
Controversy has raged in Australia since 2003, when the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator approved the use of Monsanto's GM canola, known as Roundup Ready.
By this stage the Marshes were well on their way to gaining organic certification through the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA).
Certification meant they could sell the oats they were growing for a bakery in Fremantle as organic and get a higher price.
The NASAA certification also meant they had to be sure there were no chemical, artificial fertilisers or genetically modified organisms in their produce or on their land.
The Marshes were relieved when the WA government introduced legislation prohibiting the growing of GM canola and cotton.
"It appeared that a lot of countries overseas were chasing non-GM and we believe that Western Australia was sitting at a prime position because it was separated from the rest of Australia and could remain GM free," Mr Marsh's wife Sue said.
"And we would benefit from the fact that it appears that a lot of markets were chasing GM free grains and produce."
In 2008 Victoria and NSW allowed commercial cropping of GM canola.
When the Coalition won the 2008 West Australian election it promised to consider trialling the crop.
Mr Marsh started investigating how he could protect his income and the market he had helped to establish for organic oats if WA lifted its ban.
"My concern was what would happen if a farmer got contaminated and what would his liabilities be down the track," he said.
"You couldn't insure against GM canola. The insurance companies that we went and saw deemed that it was inevitable."
Marsh sends warning to neighbours, brother
When non-GM seed from Mr Baxter's property Seven Oakes germinated on Eaglerest in 2008, Mr Marsh's concerns grew.
He took the "volunteer" crop to his neighbour to show him how easily seed spread and to explain the consequences of such an incursion if Mr Baxter were to grow GM canola in the future.
"He said, 'if this [GM canola] ever ends up on my property ... there's a fair chance you and me will end up in court because organic farms aren't allowed any GM'," Mr Baxter told Australian Story.
"And I did feel a little bit threatened back then."
Mr Baxter advised Mr Marsh that if GM canola was introduced he would probably grow it.
Mr Marsh wrote to the then state minister for agriculture and food, Terry Redman, asking for regulations to be put in place to mitigate against contamination and to determine liability. He also went to see members of the state department.
But according to Kojonup organic farmer Grantly Marinoni, Mr Marsh's pleas fell on deaf ears.
"They sort of seemed to say, 'Well, it will be alright. We'll deal with it. The courts will deal with it if something does happen'," he said.
When Western Australia gave the green light to commercial GM canola, Mr Redman assured the public contamination would never happen.
"It will be managed in a closed loop system, where there won't be any deed loss right from harvest, through handling and through to the market," he said.
The then opposition's agriculture and food spokesman Mick Murray's warning to parliament was prescient.
"It will end up with farmer against farmer, brother against brother and even father against son," he said.
On advice from his agronomist Mr Baxter decided to plant GM canola in paddocks adjacent to Eaglerest to address a weed problem and told Mr Marsh of his intention.
After seeking legal advice, Mr Marsh and Mr Marinoni wrote letters to all their neighbours warning them that they would take legal action if contaminated by GM canola.
The recipients included Mr Marsh's own brother, a conventional farmer.
"When he handed the letters out he was simply trying to protect himself. He felt very awkward and it was hard for him to do," Gary Marsh said.
"The people who he handed them to felt very offended."
'The conversation that split the friendship'
In November 2010, Mr Baxter harvested his GM crop in a way that made it vulnerable to being swept up in gusts of wind.
In the past he had always direct headed his crop. This was the first time he swathed it.
Days later, gusts of wind picked up some of the canola lying out to dry in windrows and carried it to Eaglerest.
Mr Marsh was devastated.
"We were literally dealing with hundreds and hundreds of canola swaths across a number of paddocks," he said.
Ms Baxter became emotional when Mr Marsh called her with the news.
"That was the conversation that split the friendship between the Marshes and the Baxters," she said.
The Seeds of Wrath will be broadcast on Australian Story tonight at 8pm.