A case of organic proportions

A case of organic proportions

September 12, 2014

THE high profile court case between the WA farmer growing organic canola and his neighbour growing genetically modified (GM) canola has the potential to define property rights for a generation.

Depending on what the court decides, it may even prompt new legislation.

The case is based on the fact that the organic farmer lost his certification because GM canola plants were found growing on his property. His neighbour, who grows GM canola, is accused of “contaminating” the crop and has been sued for damages.

All sorts of issues will arise in the case. For a start, there are matters of fact. Was the neighbour actually the source of the GM plants? Canola seeds are tiny and quite sticky. What if the organic farmer inadvertently brought in GM seeds on his boots or his dog had gone wandering?

Assuming a connection is established, there are numerous legal issues. Is the organic certifier’s policy of zero tolerance of GM presence a legitimate basis for withdrawal of certification? Other certifiers allow a small GM presence and there is absolutely nothing harmful about GM canola nor anything superior about organic canola. And perhaps most important of all, does certification amount to a property right and is its loss a basis for compensation?

In terms of any loss, could one of the other certifiers that allow minor levels of GM have stepped in? And could the formerly organic crop have been sold on the conventional market and a conventional crop (perhaps even GM) grown in subsequent years? The organic farmer was previously a conventional canola grower.

The case has attracted a lot of attention from the anti-business, anti-GM crowd, including the publicly listed legal firm Slater and Gordon which is representing the organic farmer at no cost.

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day, blaming it all on Monsanto, a company they love to hate. Many see it as a David and Goliath contest (despite the weight of resources on the side of the organic farmer), and as putting GM crops on trial.