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Organic Farmer Dealt Final Blow in Landmark Lawsuit Over Monsanto's GMO Contamination
Steve Marsh, an organic farmer in Western Australia, has lost his final bid in his landmark genetic modification contamination lawsuit against his neighboring farmer, Michael Baxter, who planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) canola.
Marsh claimed that he lost organic certification on approximately 70 percent of his property in Kojonup, Perth after winds carried his neighbor's Roundup Ready canola seeds onto his farm in 2010.
Australia has a zero-tolerance organic standard concerning GMO contamination on organic lands and Marsh sought $85,000 in damages against his neighbor and former childhood friend.
Marsh lost the lawsuit in a May 2014 ruling from the Supreme Court of Western Australia and was ordered instead to pay court costs of about $804,000. He appealed the decision to the West Australian court of appeal but in September, the court instead ruled in favor of Baxter.
Today, after six years of legal wrangling, the High Court rejected Marsh's bid for leave to appeal against that ruling.
Left with no further avenue of appeal, Marsh told Australia's ABC News that he was very disappointed. "We lost our income, practically half our growing income for three years, but it appears that we can't claim compensation for that, it's extraordinary," he said, adding that while the court case had cost millions of dollars, it was an important issue for the organic industry.
"I will try and hang onto our farm, it is our business and we will try and do the best we can," Marsh said. "I think that this case has highlighted that more than ever and issues about food and its safety and how we produce it."
Baxter told ABC News he was relieved about the result, describing the process as "six years of rigamarole."
This case highlights the challenges facing organic farmers whose crops are contaminated by GMOs, Ken Roseboro, editor of The Organic & Non-GMO Report, said.
"They suffer economic losses and have no recourse to regain those losses and such contamination can ruin their organic certification and make potential buyers leery of buying their crops," Roseboro told EcoWatch. "The situation is very unjust and biotech/pesticide companies should be held liable for their contaminating GMOs. This case also shows that so-called coexistence of GMOs and organics is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve when there is no liability on the GMO producers or companies.”
Lawyers told Reuters in May that a win for Marsh on the grounds of trespass would have led to new rules, such as larger buffer zones between GMO and organic farmers, potentially curbing the amount of GMO canola being planted.
Opponents of the suit claim it would have burdened GMO farmers with more rules and potentially restrict the amount of crops a farmer could plant.
Incidentally, Monsanto admitted last year that it financially supported Baxter's legal defense.
“Although we were not a party to the litigation, we respect Michael and Zanthe Baxter’s choice to defend themselves. Their neighbor initiated a legal claim against them when they were responsibly growing a safe and legal crop, as was clearly established in the Supreme Court’s verdict," Monsanto Australia’s managing director Daniel Kruithoff said in a statement.
“Both farmers were entitled to seek support for this legal dispute so that their arguments could be heard in court. It was only fair that the Baxters received much needed support given the extensive fundraising efforts of Steve Marsh’s supporters. Monsanto Australia contributed to the Baxter’s legal costs to ensure they could defend themselves in court,” Daniel said.
Marsh's campaign was supported by the Safe Food Foundation, a nonprofit food advocacy group. The Australia-based organization produced the short clip below to give a background on Marsh's case.
Farmers who have not purchased GMO seeds and find the crops growing on their land face potential litigation from the seed producers for patent infringement.
Monsanto, the world's largest producer of genetically modified seeds, is known to be an especially aggressive GMO patent-infringement litigant and has filed at least 140 cases and settled 700 more against farmers for planting the company’s GMO seeds since 1997—and they haven't lost a single case.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed Monsanto a major victory when it dismissed the 2011 case Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto that meant to stop the company from suing farmers who inadvertently found themselves accused of patent infringement when their land gets contaminated by Monsanto seeds.
Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, said of Marsh's case: "This is a perfect example of how the biotech industry and genetic engineering undermine not only human health, and the health of the environment, but also the very basis of democracy itself, and the long-held rights of farmers to protect their land from toxic trespassing."
Right now in Oregon, for instance, organic farmers reported suffering financial losses because of contamination from nearby GMO crops due to a 2013 law prohibiting local governments from regulating crops or seeds.
It appears that agribusinesses funneled large sums of money to the area's lawmakers to ensure passage of the 2013 legislation. According to the Statesmen Journal, companies such as Monsanto, Novartis and Syngenta contributed at least $127,745 in 2013 to legislators' campaign committees, the two Republican caucus political action committees, and three other PACs that contribute to candidates.
Dozens of people recently testified at a hearing on HB 4122, which would repeal the law.
“We lose money when we have a GMO contamination event, which I’ve had happen twice,” Don Tipping, an organic seed grower from Williams, said at the hearing. “We lost money directly, as have other growers.”
Advocacy groups are urging for better protections for farmers against GMO contamination.
“All over the world, organic farmers are paying the price for GMO contamination," Food & Water Watch assistant Patty Lovera told EcoWatch. "The companies that sell patented GMO seeds should be held responsible for preventing this contamination and held liable if it happens, instead of putting all of the burden on farmers who don’t use their seeds.”
Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, agrees. "This is a classic case of Monsanto's genetically engineered crops causing harm to a neighboring farmer's land and there is no legal mechanism to protect that family farmer from the negative consequences of contamination, either financially or through contamination of seed stock," he said.
"Every year organic and non-GMO farmers' crops are contaminated with Monsanto's predatory technology and it puts their economic livelihood at risk. If Monsanto can force farmers to pay royalty fees for their patented GMO seeds, they should be held liable when those patented genes end up in another farmers field, which causes them serious financial losses. We need fair laws that protect organic and non-GMO farmers from the economic hardships caused by genetic contamination of their crops, unfortunately the current legal system is rigged to protect Monsanto, not family farmers."
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In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
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Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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