Meet Mr. Baxter. He’s a farmer in Australia. He grows genetically modified canola. His problems started in 2010.
Meet Mr. Marsh. He’s Mr. Baxter’s neighbor. He grows only organic crops. He claims that Mr. Baxter’s genetically modified crops have contaminated his organic crops.
Meet the Australian Supreme Court. They think Mr. Marsh is full of rubbish.
Now Marsh’s lawyer tried to make some fancy negligence arguments — like claiming that Baxter was choosing methods to harvest his canola that made it more likely that there would be genetic drift into the organic fields.
Baxter’s lawyers countered with the fact that Baxter is simply exercising a right to grow a crop that has been deemed safe by the State Government. They argued Mr Marsh’s land could only be said to have sustained contamination if his own crops of wheat and oats had been genetically modified, or if the GM material had been mixed in with the end product, neither of which had happened.
The judges agreed with Baxter’s argument and dismissed Marsh’s lawsuit.
In part of their reasoning Judge Kenneth Martin stated: “No basis in principle was shown to extend the law [of negligence] to these events.” He continued: “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.”
Unfortunately, Australia case law is not binding on any court in the United States. However, if such a case gets taken to court, it would be really nice if our courts at least considered this reasonable approach. I appreciate this further comment from the Judge:
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.
But wait! Isn’t cross-pollination and contamination a problem? Of course, cross-pollination can occur, but our scienists know all about that and are prepared for it. Check out an answer from Steve Savage (who I’ve had the pleasure of working with) on this very issue from GMO Answers:
Of course, GM versions of a crop can cross pollinate non-GM versions of the same crop, but this is nothing new to agriculture. For a very long time, it has been necessary to isolate seed production fields of various crops so that the seed will be of the pure, desired type. The size of the buffer needed is something well worked out, depending on the crop and how it is pollinated (self-fertilization, wind, insects, birds…). GM and non-GM seed production can be managed in the same way with regard to this issue.
So scientists have already thought about the potential for cross-contamination and have dealt with it well before the GMO seeds are commercially available.
Click here to see a video of Baxter discussing how it felt to win the case (though it can be appealed).