This is a guest post by Rachel Dujardin of the Safe Food Foundation.
You may not have heard of Steve Marsh yet, but this Australian farmer could lose everything to protect your right to eat GM-free food.
Steve is an organic farmer from Kojonup, in Western Australia. In 2010, the Western Australian State Government lifted the moratorium on GM canola/rapeseed, allowing cultivation of this GM crop for the first time. As a result of this change in policy, many farmers, including Steve Marsh’s neighbor, began growing Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) canola/rapeseed. Subsequently Steve’s organic farm was contaminated. As a result of this contamination Steve lost organic certification on 70% of his farm. Steve has since lost a great deal on his premium income and his once profitable livelihood has been decimated.
Contamination cases like this have been happening globally. Widespread contamination from GM canola/rapeseed has already eliminated organic production of this crop in most areas of Canada. Because co-existence is impossible and contamination will happen, GM companies have a compulsory no-liability agreement clause in each of their contracts with GM farmers. In Canada and the U.S., Monsanto has even sued farmers whose crops have been contaminated for having patented seeds on their farms while not paying royalties.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Farmers are responsible for stock or other animals causing damage to a neighbor’s property but in the case of genetic contamination, the non-GM farmer ends up being liable for the loss and damages.
A Landmark Case About GM Contamination
While contamination from GM canola/rapeseed has had a dramatic impact on Steve and his livelihood, the GM farmer and Monsanto have refused to take responsibility and compensate him for his losses. The Western Australian Government has even said that organic standards are to blame for Steve’s loss, as if to suggest that organic foods should allow contamination by GM. As the only avenue available, Steve is taking his neighbor to court for compensation of loss and damages. This is not something that Steve wanted to do, but he had no other option to protect his right — to protect our right — to farm GM free.
Steve’s suit is the world’s first in which an organic farmer is using the courts to recover loss and damages from a GM farmer. His case has been described as a landmark one that will determine who should take responsibility about GM contamination.
Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to release GM wheat as early as 2017. We export our wheat to the world. It is therefore vital to establish responsibility for GM contamination before GM wheat is grown. If Steve wins, his case will set a precedent regarding the application of common law to GM contamination events and will be of interest to lawmakers worldwide.
There are more and more independent peer-reviewed studies showing the health risks of GM crops. We don’t want to be part of the global GM experiment underway with barely tested, unlabeled and uncontrolled GM foods infiltrating our food supplies. When people like Steve stand up for his right in spite of what he may lose, it gives us a chance to stand up with him.
Steve’s case is due to start on the 10th of February 2014 in the Western Australian Supreme Court and is scheduled to run for three weeks. His neighbor is being financially supported by pro-GM Australian lobby group, the Pastoralists & Graziers Association. The international law firm of Slater & Gordon Lawyers has taken on Steve’s case under their public interest policy but there are still many other costs necessary for barristers, court costs and expert witnesses — costs which could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Steve could not take this case without our support; that is why the Safe Food Foundation is coordinating fundraising and communicating his story to raise awareness internationally. The outcome of Steve’s case will set a precedent for the future of non-GM farming and, ultimately, affect our choice as consumers for what we eat. If a farmer doesn’t get to choose what he grows, how can we choose what we eat?
Steve is standing up for what he believes in but he cannot do it alone. If you believe farmers should have the right to produce GM-free food which ultimately equals your right to eat it, if you believe the GM-free farmer should not be the one responsible to pay the cost of contamination, please sign the pledge to support GM-free food.
Photo of Steve Marsh on his farm courtesy of The Safe Food Foundation