Australia’s First Legal Attack on Monsanto for GM Contamination of Organically Certified Crops

Photo credit: Marie Nirme

Over the Christmas and New Year, whilst people on the east and south of Australia were suffering floods and their consequences, one farmer, much further west, discovered a far more insidious flood was occurring on his property. He is also reeling from the consequences.

Steve Marsh is the farmer of an organic certified property near Kojonup, south-east of Perth in Western Australia. Well, I must correct myself — it is now more accurate to say that he was the farmer of an organic certified property…. In December, Western Australia’s Department of Agriculture conducted tests which confirmed that 70% of Steve’s wheat and oats crops have been contaminated by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola, grown on a neighbouring farm. Due to Monsanto’s inability to control the spread of their ‘product’, Steve’s farm has lost its organic certification, and is accordingly facing significant financial losses as a result.

The offending farmer has apparently "complied with his obligation to keep a 5m buffer between his GM crop and the adjoining farm." ( We should know by now that the only way to stop the spread of GMO plants is complete elimination (see also). A bee can carry pollen kilometres in a day. A five metre buffer between GM and non-GM crops is meaningless fine print which only serves to hasten the rapid spread of Big Biotech’s ‘proprietary technology’, and create potentially new captive customers of the same.

Apparently, in addition to the Monsanto mega-corp being willing to bankroll the legal defense of the GM farmers around Steve’s farm, the DFAWA (Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia), who appear to be quite cozy with Monsanto, is responding rather nonchalantly. Instead of this being a wake-up call about the already well documented uncontrollability of GM crops, and its impact on farmers who have a right to grow their own pure strains of plants without fear of such contamination, both Monsanto and the DFAWA are using this tragedy as an opportunity to instead call for a relaxation of organic standards. Instead of respecting farmers’ boundaries and their right to exercise free choice, Monsanto and their buddies are determined to push for GM crops to get let in the door and allowed to wear the organic mantle, next to natural versions!

I would call on farmers and consumers everywhere to get vocal about this. Aside from all the other issues (ethics, environmental and personal health, etc.), farmers will have to deal with the rise of super weeds as herbicide tolerance spreads across the country. (See Who Benefits from GM Crops? The Rise in Pesticide Use PDF.) This tolerance occurs both by plants naturally adapting to chemical overuse, and by horizontal gene transfer of the herbicide resistant trait to both domestic and wild species of related and unrelated plants. Farmers in the USA are now battling super weeds that in some people’s words are being described as the greatest threat to agriculture ever seen.

Listen to the following podcasts to learn more:

ABC Radio Talks to Steve Marsh – January 4, 2011

ABC Radio Talks to Steve Marsh - January 4, 2011

Melbourne’s 3CR Radio talks to organic farmer friend of Steve Marsh, David Kibble – January 11, 2011 (jump to 17:42 to get to the specific interview):

Melbourne's 3CR Radio talks to organic farmer friend of Steve Marsh, David Kibble - January 11, 2011

See also:

Are Superweeds and Outgrowth of USDA Biotech Policy? (Part 2)



  1. What a funny occurrence that a GMO field is right adjacent to an organic cultivated field. The same happened to Percy Schmeisser in Canada who developed during 40 years his own regional adapted varietys of canola. Monsanto came, offered GMO types to his neighbours and all his work was lost. Additional he had to bear several charges because of “stealing” GMO technology.

    In Germany several big seed firms are developing GMOs on experimental fields in several regions in Germany also right adjacent to experimental fields of other seed firms which develop conventional varietys of crops.

    Applications of GMO multis for developing new GMO varieties are always approved at 100% by the department for genetical engineering of the official “Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit” (“Federal department for consumerism and security of food”). This applications are labeled “Sicherheitsforschung” (“Research of bio security”). Research of bio security is always combined with a lot of subsidys – even for small projects with a few square meters.

    So the seed bank for the apocalypse in Spitzbergen, deep down under the mountains, is perhaps just the preparation for the next step of the very big business: (Sound) food for (very) high prices for everyone on earth.

  2. Go Steve Go.

    However, I don’t think we need to worry about “super weeds” as much as the other problems with GM. Herbicide tolerant weeds only affect farmers who rely on those herbicides. They are still as susceptible to any organic weed control method as ever.

  3. No-Farmer,

    I’ve come to translate as “Verbraucherschutz” “for the protection of the consumer role”, not “for the protection of the consumer as a person”. Explains many things.

  4. This is a shameful act of industrial sabotage by big agribusiness.

    I have recently written to the Australian Prime Minister on a number of occasions about the need to keep GMO crops out of our country, one of which was about this particular case. I haven’t received any reply to my communications so far but if enough people took action to let our politicians know how we feel on this subject they would eventually have to take some notice. I have sent another email today.

    You can email the PM at:

  5. The organic farmer in this article may want to look at a recent case in the US which resulted in the first time a court has ordered the removal of Monsanto GMO crop for being a contaminant to organic and non GMO crops. Monsanto is appealing, but in this case it’s a ruling against the US Department of Agriculture, so the facts here may be analogous whereby a nearby farmer utilizing GMO crop may be found liable for jeopardizing this organic farmer. To get around the 5 meter regulation, one could argue that the intent of the government regulation is to prevent contamination. Since the law has not provided the protection it purports to provide, one could legally challenge it’s effectiveness much in the same way the USDA was challenged in not upholding the law and actually violating it. It may not hold up in court but is worth a try and may have more far reaching consequences politically in raising awareness of the issue and perhaps ushering stricter, more protective laws in Australia. While the case happened in America, perhapsba court may entertain the facts of that case as instructive to this one.

    Consulting Earthjustice in Hawaii which litigated the case may yield further insight.

  6. I know of another guy in WA that was approached by two of his neighbours before the moratorium was lifted that they would be trying GM tecnology. Although the DEMETER certified farmer only grew wheat, this has proved he is still at risk.
    I wonder how much contamination that is happening with non organic farmers that they are only keeping quiet about.
    As MADGE Australia said “Co-existence is the GM lobby’s talk for irreversible contamination”

  7. I have just sent an email to our prime minster via

    Dear Ms Gillard

    In reference to

    We are smart people, we know the jury is out on GM products. We also know why food manufacturers don’t want to publish the fact their foods contain GM products.

    We know there is a phenomenal amount of money riding behind GM and its success. However this is pretty short term view.

    Our country has the ability curb GM now before it is too late. I want our country to ban GM until a credible and independent (and this does not mean a Monsanto sponsored review) analysis can be carried out.

    The only people who will complain will be those whose quarterly earnings will be effected and the obvious industry puppets and paid lobbyists.

    I for one want a quality, healthy food supply. I want to purchase organic products that are not infected with GM contaminants – this is also part of my basic rights.

    I would urge you to start the debate and let us decide if we want GM. If we choose no then in cases like this where an innocent persons livelihood and our food chain is put at risk we must say no.

    Thanks for your time!

  8. Western Australias Minister for Agriculture Terry Redman will go down in history alongside other idiots like the fool that let in the cane toad. Shame Terry Shame.

    [email protected]
    [email protected]

    Send him an email and let him know what you think of his decision to over turn local councils voting to extend the moratorium on GM crops.

  9. @Thomas Fischbacher

    I have to admit I’m not a professional translater. I’ve got the translation for “Verbraucherschutz” (“Consumerism”) from And department (rather “Abteilung”) is probably also the wrong word, i think agency or authority would be better.

    The EU (comission) or the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has approved a higher limit for the presence of Glyphosate (part of Round-up-Ready) in Soja in 1999 or 2000. The farmers using GM Soja had to spray more and more so the concentration of Glyphosate in the crops got higher and higher. This is a clear sign, that the idea of herbicide tolerance is complete BS.
    In the last ten years the limit of Glyphosate in soja in the EU has been risen again. These are criminals.

  10. No-Farmer,

    you probably mean this:

    Is Roundup herbicide causing us reproductive problems?

    Genetically modified soybeans are called Roundup Ready. They are inserted with a bacterial gene, which allows the plants to survive a normally deadly dose of Roundup herbicide. Although the spray doesn’t kill the plant, its active ingredient called glyphosate does accumulate in the beans themselves, which are consumed by rats, livestock, and humans. There is so much glyphosate in GM soybeans, when they were introduced Europe had to increase their allowable residue levels by 200 fold.

  11. Fortunatly Nature will take care of this in no time, I mean, in it’s own time. Either we are still around or not.

  12. Maybe if Steve Marsh sues Monsanto and not the GM grower – even more support would be given. ALthough – as a conventional farmer – we have concerns about the potential contamination of our land with ryegrass toxicity from our organic neighbours, this is also a very real threat to our way of farming. Also dorper sheep? Many merino breeders were not too happy with the introduction of wool shedding breeds, same thing.

  13. Hi Give us our Strength,

    what are organic farmers doing to control ARGT? Are they using biological controls that aren’t effective? Surely their stock would be suffering with the disease as much as their neighbour.

    Im not too sure whether Steve could effectively fight Monsanto, all that happened before the WA Government lifted the moratorium. Steve suing his neighbour implies they were responsible for thier crops and residues, and highlights the flaws in the current controls set out by the WA Government.

  14. All GMO Seeds must be Sterile! That is one solution to the problem! Also take away any Copyright of GM Crops! Or make it so ridicuously expensive to get copyright that it would cost Monsanto ten Trillion Dollars to copyright just one variety of let’s say GM Maze! This way if contamination of other crops are caused by Monsanto. Make it impossible for them to make any profit from their poison! Also Ban the Ready round-up chemical.

  15. Anybody remember that Australian research identified Thalidomide as source of birth defects in children?
    That the Sunday Times Insight Team article (pre-Murdoch of course)triggered a boycott which brought Distillers to the table and resulted not only in compensation for victims but “The thalidomide tragedy led to much stricter testing being required for drugs and pesticides before they can be licensed.” dixit
    It will be much harder this time to overcome the lobbies, politicians’ hidden agenda, press barons and a chloroformed, indifferent public.
    Terry Redman and his cohorts’ ruling should not be allowed to go forgotten in the history books. Isn’t there something about the errors of the parents being visited on the children….

  16. I’m confused. I re-read the article to make sure, but I don’t see how wheat and oats were contaminated with canola. I sort of hate to bring this up because I generally look for any opportunity to bash Monsanto and GE crops in general, but the article is misleading in that it doesn’t state what actually happened. Wheat and oats cannot cross pollinate with canola, so if it wasn’t a crossing event, was it an herbicide drift event (which would make the GE topic irrelevant)? Or was it a seed spread event? It’s hard to imagine canola seed pods naturally shattering to contaminate “70%” of a crop. Either something more dubious on Monsanto’s part is occurring or I’m missing something. Anybody have the details for the story?

  17. This case is critical in the GM debate. We have spent over 10 years trying to introduce a strict liability regime to legislation to ensure Monsanto is liable for the economic loss their product causes but unfortunately governments refused. Instead, they promised “common law” would give compensation should a non-GM farmer be caused economic loss.
    Why Steve Marsh’ case is such a worry to them is because he gave a legal letter warning the GM farmer that he must contain his product and accept liability for economic loss prior to it happening and also it can be easily proven who caused the contamination.
    Governments are part of the problem, not the solution. Government funded plant breeding institutes are forming alliances with Monsanto in return for a promise of a cut of profits. When Redman permitted GM in West Australia, the government plant breeding institutes received a $10.5million injection of cash from Monsanto and now own almost 20% of the plant breeding institute and their Australian alliance partner Nufarm has exclusive seed sselling rights for these varieties. It is all about corporate control and bribery. If Monsanto adds their patented gene to all varieties, all farmers will be locked into being contract growers for their supply chain. Farmers through contracts are told how to grow the crop, who to deliver it to and who to sell it to. The farmer just pays the costs, does the work and takes the risk.
    We need to support Steve Marsh to bring the liabiltiy on to the GM industry where it should be.

  18. Monsanto is an evil company. watch to see the effect they have had (and the strongarm tactics they use) on farmers in the states.
    This is wrong and it has to stop now.

  19. Thank you Adam. I wasn’t aware of the movie Food,INC. but what a great exposition of the situation.

    I watched the trailer and found the plea by a farmer particularly revealing. He said “People have got to start demanding good wholesome food from us and we’ll deliver. I promise you”. I think this points to part of the problem. We quite rightly blame Monsanto and the like and their government cohorts for controlling and evilly manipulating the food supply (and perhaps even farmers for complying with it) for profit and goodness knows what other underhand motives, but if people didn’t buy the crap supplied over recent years by such methods in supermarkets and fast food outlets these companies whole profit base would be shaken and they would either change or fail (after exploiting all of the dirty manipulative tricks available to them). I know it isn’t that simple and in fact the large food retailing chains themselves have for some time now started to flex their muscles to make their own demands from growers and suppliers so they must also be viewed as part of the evil empire that is controlling our food supply. I know this to be true because until a few months ago I worked for one of these supermarket chains until the time came when I could not ethically do so any longer. Read also ‘The End of Food” by Paul Roberts.

    It is time to stand up and be counted, people. Have some self-respect and only eat or grow good wholesome food. Resolve to never again buy from any fast food outlet. You don’t need it. Resolve never again (or as quickly as you are able, and as little as you can) to buy food from any supermarket. Grow as much as you can but buy/barter only from local farmers and suppliers who can guarantee the standards by which their produce was sourced. I would add a plea that it would benefit you and the world if you became vegetarian but I know that if I do that it will spark a whole new side debate, so I won’t ;)

    I also know that this plea is generally directed at the wrong audience. It is the great mass of unthinking/uncaring food scoffers out there who need to get the message and like the farmer said, make demands for better food. Movies like Food,INC. are just what the populace need to see and also the video ‘Meet your Meat’ but personally I think it won’t happen and while there will be an awakening in some to follow a better path, the majority will just carry on as usual getting more and more grossly overweight and sick and causing more of a blowout in health spending (which brings in the machinations of the equally evil pharmaceutical empire) until with the falling availability of the oil necessary to keep the process moving, the whole system will collapse under its own weight and millions (perhaps billions) will die from sickness, starvation, hardship, forced migration or conflict.

    I just hope there are enough of us left at the end with a knowledge of permaculture and a love of the simple life to make a new start.

  20. Let’s all rally together and help this farmer and all farmers. GMOs are killing us off with slow developing disease, including that of animals and the environment. We have to speak up and start buying organic food to curb this nightmare. The more people that act the better. Ring your local parliamentarian too – only takes 5 minutes to complain.

  21. GM Canola has been declared a weed in Europe and America, found growing alongside roadways and in the wild.

    When organic farmers deliver their crop along side GM crops contamination can happen in the mix but not disclosed then.

    GM Canola seed can be found growing over 3km away from its original farm. Bees carry pollin and honey can also have modified genes in it.

    I think someone should start another political party that would ban GM from Australia/Tasmania including all the imported GM products, GM ingredients, the whole lot of GM’s.

    They would have my vote even if they only did one thing and stop GM entering Australia.

  22. I can’t believe the things i have been learning about our food supply! Not many people think of where the food comes from, you just go to the supermarket and buy it. We should be able to trust the gov’t to ensure the safety of it but obviously they are taking advantage of the fact that most aussies just seem to go along with whatever happens. I hope you guys can fight this thing i for one would like to feed my kids real food. God save us all.

  23. Go Steve I have donated some money to assist this, and I really really really hope he wins!!!! I will be praying for a good outcome.
    I too have contacted many government ministers at various levels, all to no avail and with no response..

  24. Another important Doco to watch on this matter is “Future Of Food” I think everyone should take the time to watch this Doco. Another interesting fact is Monsanto’s ties with the FDA and the White house,

    Toby Moffett
    Monsanto Consultant
    US Congessman

    Dennis DeConcini
Legal Counsel
    US Senator

    Margaret Miller
    Chemical Lab Supervisor
    Dep. Dir. FDA, 
    Bush Sr,

    Marcia Hale
    Director, Int’l 
Govt. Affairs
    White House 
Senior Staff

    Mickey Kantor
    Board Member
    Sec. of Commerce

    Virginia Weldon
    VP, Public Policy
    WH-Appt to CSA, Gore’s SDR

    Josh King
    Director, Int’l 
Govt. Affairs
    White House Communications

    David Beler
    VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs
    Gore’s Chief Dom. 
Polcy Advisor

    Carol Tucker-Foreman
    Monsanto Lobbyist
    WH-Appointed Consumer Adv

    Linda Fisher
    VP, Gov’t & Public Affairs
    Deputy Admin 

    Lidia Watrud
    Manager, New Technologies
Bush, Obama

    Michael Taylor
    VP, Public Policy
    Dep. Commiss. FDA

    Hilary Clinton
    Rose Law Firm, Monsanto Counsel
    US Senator,
Secretary of State

    Roger Beachy
    Director, Monsanto Danforth Center
    Director USDA NIFA

    Islam Siddiqui
    Monsanto Lobbyist
    Ag Negotiator
Trade Rep

  25. SILENT in flannel shirts and ponytails, farmers from Saskatchewan and South Dakota, Mississippi and Massachusetts lined the walls of a packed federal courtroom in Manhattan last week, as their lawyers told a judge that they were no longer able to keep genetically modified crops from their fields….
    “Pollen and DNA do not play by the U.S.D.A.’s rules,” said Elizabeth Archerd, a director of a Minneapolis food co-op, the Wedge, that supports labeling of transgenic food.
    That is why farmers like Bryce Stephens of Jennings, Kan., made the trip to New York last week.
    “I don’t raise corn anymore,” he said, because the prevailing wind on his farm had contaminated his crop with transgenic seed. Without the resources to devote land to a buffer zone, he said that the alfalfa he grows to feed his herd of organic bison would soon be contaminated by his neighbors’ crops.

  26. I own a healthfood shop, and have noticed over the years people getting sicker with often mystery illnesses.Even people with healthy diets are getting sick, from very young children and babies to the elderly, they suffer from gluten intolerance and bloating cramps, diarrhea, constipation and wind in epidemic proportions.
    Whats going on?
    When I eat organic food or homegrown I dont have problems when I buy from the supermarket I suffer with cramps or worse.
    Can someone tell me when it became acceptable for a person to buy a pear that never decays and can never be eaten, I had one on my self for a year.
    Has the world gone mad? are they dumbing us down people seem to be so complacent, maybe all these stupid reality shows are there to fill our minds up so we dont notice whats going on.

  27. I just watch a documentary about Round-up ready Canola seed in Canada, what has happened is horrifying. They are now having to use more powerful weed killers and there crop yields have decreased after 3 years not got larger like Monsanto promised and less nutrition. This has to stop now. Here’s a link to the doco called David vs Monsanto

  28. GM is likened to a plague only this time the powers to be are enabling and allowing it to spread. It nearly defies logic that something so destructive can be allowed to go unchecked.
    Another recent and very good documentary on GM and Roundup is Genetic Roulette. If a copy of this went to every household in Australia, maybe then there could be a hope of banning this madness.

    In the likeness of David and Monsanto, I wonder if there is an Achilles heal to Monsanto and their food domination program. As with the banning of the slave trade through the work of William Wilberforce and his colleagues, could there be a similar avenue available to bring GM to its knees in very short time.
    If GM were to become an obsolete technology (like that of vinyl records or square balers) – one that would made organic produce cheaper and higher yielding than “GM and conventional” – maybe farmers would simply move to this methodology / technology purely for the economic reason alone – then get all the side (read “REAL”) benefits to go with it.

    I am sure there is an answer. Matthew 19:26

  29. There needs to be a stronger network group to march actively against this heinous company, monsanto What action & why dont the media come to the party by promoting this information to the public?

  30. if we could prove Western Australias Minister for Agriculture Terry Redman is in bed with Monsanto when he lifted the GM ban in WA. would all this go away?
    if majority of our NON GM crops go to EU. why would he lift the ban? what research did he have to make a decision to lift the ban. ? perhaps Monsanto showed him a report of how much money he could make on the side if he lifted the ban for them.. perhaps if we investigate him we might find out the truth..

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