What happens when farmers can’t choose what they grow anymore?

Feature Story - 2 May, 2012
WA farmer Steve Marsh will soon enter the court-room in a landmark trial that will test farmers’ rights to grow GM-free crops, and ultimately, our right to choose safe and healthy food.

Steve Marsh’s case is not an isolated one is not an isolated one. WA farmers Ian and Jodi James recently received confirmation from an independent lab that they had GM contamination on their land.

In this short but moving video the couple describe the devastating storm that washed GM canola from the neighbour’s property onto theirs.

Ian and Jodi James own a 7000 acre farm next to Cunderdin (WA). They chose to grow non-GM canola because they didn’t want to get locked into a contract with Monsanto. They also didn’t want to grow food they didn’t know was safe and knew they could sell non GM canola at a higher price. Their neighbour however, decided to grow GM without telling Ian and Jodi in advance.

He wasn’t acting illegally. According to WA law, there is no need to advise neighbours if you are growing a GM crop, and buffer zones between GM and non-GM crops are just five metres. Canola seeds can sometimes travel up to 2.5km in the wind.

The James feared contamination of their crops after a severe hailstorm and requested the Department of Agriculture test to contamination. It conducted minimal testing and then publicly declared there was no contamination on the James’ property.

The James' knew their paddock must have been contaminated; they had watched the water flowing into their paddock and knew it had to have contained GM seeds. What really surprised them was the lack of concern the Department showed, it was as if they didn't want to find contamination. Not happy with the Department's 'superficial' testing process, the James' had their own independent testing done but, this time, contamination was proved.

This left the James' family in an extremely difficult position. Now the only avenue available to them to pursue for compensation was to sue their neighbour. Why are Australian farmers being forced to attack each other in court when GM contamination is inevitable?  In Canada, it took less than five years before almost all canola was contaminated and it was impossible to grow anything else. Why is there no protection or compensation system in place? Why is the company profiteering (Monsanto) from farmer misfortune not liable for keeping their product where it should be?

Greenpeace is working with farmers to push for Farmer Protection legislation. Read more about Farmer Protection legislation here.

Steve Marsh’s legal case has wide-reaching ramifications for all Australians. The legal battle is not just over money, but whether Australian farmers will be able to grow GM-free crops now and in the future.

TAKE ACTION: Send a message of support to Steve Marsh on his website or Facebook page.