14 Feb 2014

Organic farmer sues neighbour

6:27 am on 14 February 2014

Those on both sides of the genetic modification debate in New Zealand are keenly awaiting the outcome of a court case in Western Australia, where an organic farmer is suing his neighbour.

Steve Marsh, who owns an organic oat and sheep farm, claims genetically modified canola grown next door contaminated most of his property and he's lost his organic certification as a result.

There's international interest in the case because some suggest it could lead to changes in the rules for organic farming and conditions governing genetically modified crops.

Chairman of New Zealand's national organics body Brendan Hoare says it's a debate that New Zealand has shied away from, but needs to have.

He says the legality of whether the polluter pays or not is under question and it will be closely followed in Australia and New Zealand.

Federated Farmers science spokesman, William Rolleston, thinks the Western Australia case hinges on both parties in the dispute having to show a duty of care and take some responsibility.

He says it may also question whether the Australian organic body was being fair and reasonable with the zero tolerance approach that led to the farmer losing his certification.

Mr Rolleston says the zero tolerance approach is not copied around the world and in Europe there is a tolerance level and in the United States there is a rule that if there is any inadvertent growing of genetically modified plants on a property, it does not disqualify the grower from having an organic status.