Farm Progress is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Serving: United States

Benchmark GM crop contamination case a bitter tale

Benchmark GM crop contamination case a bitter tale

There is often nothing so bitter as a farmer vs. farmer dispute. Steve Marsh and Michael Baxter’s friendship is shattered after 45 years of playing as boys, working together as teens, and farming beside each other as men. They’re matched in a GM crop clash that digs deeper than the 45-year bond, and the whole world is watching, craning for a peek at agriculture’s version of a cage fight — and waiting on a touchstone outcome.

Marsh, 49, and Baxter, 48, farm adjacent land in Western Australia, as their families have done for over a century. In 2004, Marsh began steering his farm away from conventional agriculture, tapping the organic vein with his field crops and livestock, and gaining certified organic status that placed his operation in a strong financial position.


Blog archive

Big Data is agriculture’s big blank on the map

Benchmark GM crop contamination case a bitter tale

How to create an epic environmental disaster


In 2010, partly in response to rye-grass problems, Baxter planted 210 acres of his 2,900 acre farm with Monsanto-produced Roundup Ready GM canola, buffer zones in place, and hoped it would yield well. Then he told Marsh about his GM plantings — and a wrenching feud was born. According to the The Australian, as harvest neared, Marsh “… asked Baxter to sign a letter acknowledging that if Marsh’s organic farm was contaminated with GM material, he understood legal action would follow. Baxter said he was appalled at the abrasiveness of the letter and the apparent determination of a close friend and neighbor to resort to the courts ahead of the usual friendly chat over the boundary fence, if any problems — at that point nonexistent — eventuated.”

Marsh wouldn’t sign the letter.


For more, see Sue Neale’s fine piece in The Australian: Farmers’ GM case is a world first


In November of 2010, during Baxter’s harvest, Marsh found canola trash beside his land and knew the inevitable had happened. He used a DNA strip tester and had the result in minutes — GMO positive. From The Global Mail: “After his DNA strip test, Marsh says he discovered the presence of GM canola on around 70 percent of his property and up to 1.5 kilometers in from his boundary fence. Each plant, he knew, had the potential to continue sprouting for at least 15 years.”


A great long read: Steve Marsh and The Bad Seeds


Marsh’s organic certification was dead and his production contracts nullified. But Marsh didn’t go after deep-pocketed Monsanto (maker of the GM canola), instead, he charged Baxter with culpability and the civil case will begin in front of the Western Australia Supreme Court Feb. 10.

No winners

Two hundred and fifty miles north, producer John Snooke grows GM canola and believes organic certification and “zero-tolerance” should be changed. From the Mail: “In Snooke’s book, Steve Marsh as plaintiff is going after the wrong guy. The organic certifier NASAA needs to rethink its ‘zero tolerance’ approach to GM, Snooke says, and create a more realistic threshold for when so-called ‘contamination’ occurs.”

The Marsh vs. Baxter case is a web of legal, ideological, and ecological strands — a nightmare to adjudicate. “In agriculture, storms happen, water flows, wind carries unintended matter in different places. That’s why we need thresholds. To allow neighbors to coexist and allow trade to flourish,” Snooke says.


Want the latest agricultural news each day? Click here for the Western Farm Press Daily e-mail newsletter.


Maybe it's not a case of fault or blame; just two farmers literally on opposite sides of the fence, caught up in the GM-organic tangle — agriculture’s version of the Gordian knot. Whatever ruling or precedent the court lays down, there will be no handshakes or happy endings, as Marsh says “… I also can’t help but know a lot of what Michael has gone through; one thing I do know is that there’s no real winners in this case, whoever wins.”


Follow me on Twitter: @CBennett71 or email me:


Blog archive

How to create an epic environmental disaster

Big Ag goes organic (Come again?)

Farm’s Nazi past still fresh for slave workers

Farmer privacy breach brings suit against EPA

James Bond once worked for the EPA

AK-47 rifle was agriculture’s giant loss?

What treasure is buried beneath farmland?

Farmland hides mobster for 10 years

What are the greatest agriculture breakthroughs in history?

Who are the top 100 private landowners in the US?

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.