Two neighbouring farmers, a field of canola and a gust of wind are at the centre of a landmark court case in Australia that could have consequences for the controversial growing of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country.

Steve Marsh is suing former childhood friend Michael Baxter after harvested seed heads from Baxter’s GM canola crop blew onto Marsh’s farm in Western Australia, court documents said, contaminating land used for his organic oat and wheat crops.

Marsh, stripped of his organic certification and export licence for his oats, is claiming unspecified damages for loss of income in the civil negligence case, which opens today in the Western Australian Supreme Court.

Lawyers said it was the first time in Australia that one farmer had sued another for negligence over contamination of organic crops by GM organisms and would set a precedent for future cases.

Baxter bought the seeds from Monsanto. Marsh had opted not to sue the US firm because of a non-liability contract Monsanto signed with all farmers who bought its seeds, said Scott Kinnear of the Safe Food Foundation.

The case was likely to lead to regulations outlining boundaries between farms producing GM crops and organic farms, lawyers and agribusiness experts said, potentially reducing the land available for cultivation. It could also change Australia’s unique zero tolerance status for contamination of organic crops, they said. – Reuters