Organic Farmer Sues Neighbor Over GMO Contamination

An organic farmer is suing a neighboring growing for GMO contamination of his land. The first of its kind lawsuit could set a precedent and major blow to biotech giant Monsanto, if Steve Marsh wins his case. Since 1997 the Big Ag company has filed 145 lawsuit against farmers for reusing its patented genetically modified seeds. According to Daily Finance, Monsanto has fought and won, on average, one lawsuit every three weeks for the past 16 years. Both Monsanto and DuPont are allegedly planning to hire retired law enforcement officers to find farmers reusing the patented GMO seeds and thwart the illegal growing.

Farmers have attempted to sue Monsanto and GMO seeds competitor DuPont on GMO contamination or cross-contamination grounds. Steve Marsh, an Australian organic farmer, is the first to attempt to make the issue a property rights battle and actually sue the individual who planted and cultivated the genetically engineered crops.

Marsh’s battle began in 2010 when he discovered that his organic crops had been contaminated by a neighbor’s genetically modified rapeseed/canola crops. The fellow growers harvest was reportedly planted with Monsanto Roundup Ready seeds. Due to the GMO contamination, the Australian organic farmer lost the difficult to acquire organic status on 70 percent of his growing area. The severe financial harm stemming from the loss of organic status reportedly stripped him of $85,000 in earnings.

If Steve Marsh wins the property rights lawsuit, farmers utilizing GMO seeds could begin to seriously rethink their growing practices. If the neighbor is held liable for contaminating the organic farmers wheat and oat crops, a flurry of similar lawsuits could spring up around both Australia and the United States. The thought process behind the GMO contamination lawsuit is similar to arguments made when a company is deemed liable for runoff that contaminates adjacent land.

The Australian farmer was unable to regain organic status on his entire property until late last fall. Before the governing agency agreed to reinstate the status the neighbor targeted in the lawsuit had to agree to modify his growing and harvesting process in order to minimize the potential to GMO contamination.

In Australia, there is a zero-tolerance for GMO traces in organic crops. In the United States, small percentages of genetically modified or non-natural substances can be present and the harvest still labeled as organic. Organic farmers in America would likely face a tougher battle in cross-contamination lawsuits unless the GMO traces surpassed the amounts allowable under existing regulations.

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