Source: ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-28/landmark-gm-decision-wa-supreme-court/5482864?section=wa
A farmer accused of contaminating his neighbour’s crops with genetically modified canola has won a landmark case in the West Australian Supreme Court.
The decision could have wide-reaching implications for the production of genetically modified crops in Australia.
Michael Baxter was being sued by his neighbour, Steve Marsh, an organic certified farmer who alleged his farm in the Great Southern region was contaminated by GM material blown onto his property from Mr Baxter’s land.
Mr Marsh claimed the contamination caused him to lose his organic certification on more than half his Kojonup property for almost three years.
But Justice Kenneth Martin said Mr Baxter could not be held responsible just for growing a GM crop in a conventional way.
“The end of season winds and the blowing of swathes from Sevenoaks eastwards into Eagle Rest had not been an outcome intended by Mr Baxter,” he said in his judgment summary.
“Even so, no physical injury whatsoever had been sustained at Eagle Rest in consequence.
“Mr Baxter was not to be held responsible as a broadacre farmer merely for growing a lawful GM crop and choosing to adopt a harvest methodology (swathing) which was entirely orthodox in its implementation.”
“No basis in principle was shown to extend the law to these events,” he said.
“Furthermore, Mr Baxter had not been shown to have acted negligently, either by growing or then by swathing the lawfully grown GM crop in 2010.”
Mr Baxter was surrounded by anti-GM protesters as he left court.
He said the decision gave other farmers in Western Australia more certainty.
“It’s a proven product. There’s nothing dangerous about it,” he said.
“It’s perfectly safe, it’s legalised and I think it’s a great thing of the future.”
Despite his victory, Mr Baxter said the court action had taken a heavy toll.
“My marriage was destroyed over it, so hope the next-door neighbour is happy about that,” he said.
Mr Marsh was visibly emotional as he left court and expressed his disappointment in the decision.
“After three-and-a-half years of this it’s been pretty challenging,” he said.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in the judgment given the impacts on our lives.”
He said he needed time to consider the judgment before deciding whether to appeal.
“It’s an issue of choice, isn’t it? Simple as that,” he said.
“There is a lot of implications for agriculture in this decision.”
Farming group welcomes court finding
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association’s John Snooke said the decision gave certainty to the mainstream agricultural industry.
“Farmers are continuing to adopt modern technologies and this allows them to do that at the pace they choose,” he said.