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Benchmark GM crop contamination case a bitter tale


Table of Contents:

  • Benchmark GM crop contamination case a bitter tale
  • No winners
  • A landmark court case involving GM contamination of organic crops has torn a farming community apart.

There is often nothing so bitter as a farmer vs. farmer dispute. Steve Marsh and Michael Baxter’s friendship is shattered after 45 years of playing as boys, working together as teens, and farming beside each other as men. They’re matched in a GM crop clash that digs deeper than the 45-year bond, and the whole world is watching, craning for a peek at agriculture’s version of a cage fight — and waiting on a touchstone outcome.

Marsh, 49, and Baxter, 48, farm adjacent land in Western Australia, as their families have done for over a century. In 2004, Marsh began steering his farm away from conventional agriculture, tapping the organic vein with his field crops and livestock, and gaining certified organic status that placed his operation in a strong financial position.


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In 2010, partly in response to rye-grass problems, Baxter planted 210 acres of his 2,900 acre farm with Monsanto-produced Roundup Ready GM canola, buffer zones in place, and hoped it would yield well. Then he told Marsh about his GM plantings — and a wrenching feud was born. According to the The Australian, as harvest neared, Marsh “… asked Baxter to sign a letter acknowledging that if Marsh’s organic farm was contaminated with GM material, he understood legal action would follow. Baxter said he was appalled at the abrasiveness of the letter and the apparent determination of a close friend and neighbor to resort to the courts ahead of the usual friendly chat over the boundary fence, if any problems — at that point nonexistent — eventuated.”

Marsh wouldn’t sign the letter.


For more, see Sue Neale’s fine piece in The Australian: Farmers’ GM case is a world first


In November of 2010, during Baxter’s harvest, Marsh found canola trash beside his land and knew the inevitable had happened. He used a DNA strip tester and had the result in minutes — GMO positive. From The Global Mail: “After his DNA strip test, Marsh says he discovered the presence of GM canola on around 70 percent of his property and up to 1.5 kilometers in from his boundary fence. Each plant, he knew, had the potential to continue sprouting for at least 15 years.”


A great long read: Steve Marsh and The Bad Seeds


Marsh’s organic certification was dead and his production contracts nullified. But Marsh didn’t go after deep-pocketed Monsanto (maker of the GM canola), instead, he charged Baxter with culpability and the civil case will begin in front of the Western Australia Supreme Court Feb. 10.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 4, 2014

Hope Marsh wins Baxter's land in court. Come on Aussies: do the RIGHT thing.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 5, 2014

70%, 1.5 km, and 15 years all seem unlikely. Also, not sure about Australian organic rules but I am not aware of a single farmer in the US that has ever lost their organic certification due to the presence of a GMO crop in an adjacent field.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 9, 2014

To be honest, I feel for Mr Baxter. He has agreed to a buffer zone between the crops. He is growing a legal crop in a legal manner. Is it right he loses everything because a Neighbour deems that a legal food crop has blown onto his property?

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