NOTE: This is a guest post from The Safe Food Foundation, an Australian based not-for-profit campaign and advocacy organization. Our mission is to make the World’s food supply clean, safe, nutritious, full of taste and produced in a way that enhances our environment, as well as our social and economic systems. We are working partnership with Slater & Gordon Law Firm to raise the funds required for farmer Steve Marsh’s landmark case.
While big business and corporate power may have defeated California’s proposition 37 to get GMOs labeled, the battle for good, safe food rages on. With all the recent media attention surrounding genetically modified (GM) foods, real change is slowly but surely brewing! People the world over are taking notice, coming together and demanding information about GMOs and their presence in our food system.
There are many reasons to question GMOs in our food supply. One such issue being our freedom of choice. When GM crops are grown next to non-GM crops we often see issues of contamination. This contamination may be due to many factors including human error, wind, birds, bees and floods. Contamination has continually posed a problem in the agricultural sector and in many cases has resulted in lawsuits where farmers suffer under the hand of corporations hiding behind the guise of ‘patent infringement.’ You may remember the case of Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser who was charged with patent infringement by Monsanto. Schmeiser stood up to Monsanto and obtained a settlement out of court for Monsanto to clean up his land. The result was seemingly in his favor, however, Schmeiser was left with weighty legal bills and the legal framework was left unchanged with the Federal Court of Canada upholding the validity of Monsanto’s patent.
How has this happened? How is it that a farmer’s property can be invaded by uninvited, unwanted genetically modified seeds and or pollen, and then the farmer has to pay? What about the farmer’s right to grow GM-free crops? And consequently, what about our rights as consumers to buy GM-free foods? Do we all just have to bow down to the corporate world and pay them for contaminating our food? It’s time we stand up and demand protection for our food system.
This is exactly what one Aussie farmer is doing. In a farming community 160 miles outside of Perth, Australia, organic farmer Steve Marsh is taking a stand against GM contamination. In 2010, the state government of Western Australia lifted the moratorium on GM canola, opening up the state’s agricultural sector to the cultivation of this GM crop for the first time. As a result of this change in policy many farmers, including Marsh’s next door neighbor, began growing GM canola. With a pre-established and agreed GM industry buffer zone of less than 5.5 yards (a distance seed and pollen with the help of an even mild wind could easily traverse) it seems as though contamination was inevitable. After a high wind, one day Steve found GM canola dried plants spread over much of his farm, loaded with dry seed falling off onto his land. Consequently, Steve lost his organic certification when the certifying body, NASAA (The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia) found 70 percent of his property had been contaminated with GM canola.
As a result of the contamination, Steve and his family are no longer able to sell their product on the organic market and have lost a great deal of their income. It’s shocking to think we live in a world where corporations are often free from responsibility in relation to their products infringing the rights of others. However, due to the liability agreement Monsanto has farmers sign, the corporate giant is ‘off the hook’ when it comes to cases of contamination. Thus, Australia is set to see the first case of an organic farmer proactively seeking compensation from a GM farmer when his rights have been violated by a biotech invasion. This is something that Steve does not want to do but he has no other option if he wants to stand up for his rights as well as ours. Due to lack of labeling (now upheld by the failure of California Proposition 37) and/or inadequate labeling, often the only way to eat foods free from GMOs is to eat organic. This makes Steve’s case and the contamination of the organic industry an issue beyond labeling. Once our organic food supply is contaminated, reading a label won’t make a difference because ALL food will contain GMOs!
So instead of accepting this adulteration of his farmland, Steve has taken a stand against the invasion of genetically modified crops. In an unprecedented case, Steve is taking his neighbor to court for compensation of loss and damages. The international law firm of Slater & Gordon has taken on the case under their public interest policy (we applaud them!) but that does not entirely relieve the financial stress of this case as there will be a great deal of disbursements in fighting such a legal battle. Money is needed for barristers, court costs and expert witnesses and this is expected to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For more information about Steve Marsh and this precedent-setting case against genetic modification and food contamination, please visit The Safe Food Foundation.
Photo of Steve Marsh on his farm courtesy of The Safe Food Foundation