Organic claimant denied damages

By AAP Newswire

An organic farmer who failed in a bid to sue his neighbour after genetically modified canola blew onto his West Australian property has been denied leave to appeal by the High Court.

Steve Marsh claimed he lost organic certification for 70 per cent of his Kojonup farm after contamination from his neighbour’s herbicide-resistant crop in 2010.

Mr Marsh had sought $85,000 in damages but lost the lawsuit against childhood friend Michael Baxter in the WA Supreme Court in 2014 and was ordered to pay court costs of about $804,000.

The Court of Appeal also ruled in favour of Mr Baxter in a two-to-one vote in September last year.

Mr Marsh sought special leave to appeal in the High Court, but the case was dismissed.

The decision means Mr Marsh has no further appeal options.

Gene Ethics director Bob Phelps, who supported Mr Marsh, said the case deserved a High Court review.

‘‘Steve Marsh deserved a High Court review and we are extremely disappointed by this rejection of his application for leave. He is the West Australian organic farmer who was de-certified after genetically manipulated (GM) canola blew onto his farm in 2010.

‘‘Carmel McClure, chief judge of the WA Court of Appeal, strongly backed Marsh’s case for $85000 compensation but two other judges disagreed with her so Marsh lost.

‘‘Her incisive judgement offered good prospects for Marsh’s appeal to succeed in the High Court, had it been heard,’’ Mr Phelps said.

‘‘Judge McClure found that Marsh’s certifier was right to decertify his land, according to federal organic standards, so his compensation claim should have been upheld.

‘‘Marsh’s neighbour Baxter had windrowed his GM canola to dry, and it blew onto Marsh’s land scattering millions of seeds. Marsh also spoke to Baxter, wrote to him and posted signage on his boundary long before the GM contamination event, warning that GM canola was a hazard to his organic certification and livelihood.

‘‘Mediation before the first trial also failed, refuting Baxter’s claim that Marsh could have settled the claim over the fence and a beer. Monsanto indemnified Baxter for his legal costs so he did not negotiate fairly,’’ Mr Phelps said.