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High-profile GM farm case begins in Australia

SYDNEY -- An Australian farmer who lost his organic produce license has taken his neighbor to court over contamination from his genetically modified (GM) canola crop in a closely watched test case.

Steve Marsh's case against his neighbor Michael Baxter began in Western Australia's Supreme Court on Monday, seeking damages and a permanent injunction to protect his farm from future contamination.

Marsh lost organic certification on 70 percent of his land in 2010 after swathes and seed from Baxter's farm blew onto his property, resulting in “great financial hardship and an uncertain future.”

His legal team said the case could set an important benchmark on farming.

“As far as we know, this is the first court case of its type anywhere in the world. It will test the legal rights of farmers to choose how and what they farm on their land,” said lawyer Mark Walter.

“The case is about freedom of choice, for both farmers and for consumers. It is important that farmers retain their rights to farm GM-free food as this in turn will protect consumers' ability to purchase GM-free food.”

'Unreasonable standards'

Baxter's defense team argues that Marsh's farm, where oats and other grains are grown and sheep graze, cannot be directly affected by the GM canola because he does not grow canola himself.

He takes issue with Australia's organic certifying body for what he claims are excessive and unreasonable standards that saw Marsh lose his license.

The case is being watched closely by Australian legal experts who said there were a number of important issues at stake.

Agricultural lobbyists worry it could set a dangerous precedent about land use.

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