Who’s who? ‘David and Goliath’ roles mixed up in West Australian Marsh v Baxter case

Baxter
Image via Farm Weekly

Many anti-GMO campaigns invoke the biblical story of David and Goliath, trying to portray themselves as penniless underdogs fighting against Big Agriculture. Large biotech companies like Monsanto and Syngenta are often cast as Goliath, a nine-foot-tall giant according to the story, and small organic farms play the role of David, a young teenager brave enough to take on fully-armored Goliath with only a sling and a bag of stones. The theme has been used in campaigns for causes like Vermont’s labeling bill and Oregon’s GMO ban.

In some cases, there is no mistaking who’s David and who’s Goliath. But the reality is often the opposite. A prominent example in which the roles were misrepresented was the Western Australia battle between organic farmer Steve Marsh and conventional farmer Michael Baxter.

The Marsh v Baxter battle began in 2010 when Marsh sued his neighbor and former friend Baxter for ‘contamination’ of GM canola pollen on his organic farm after he lost his organic certification. However, the Western Australian Supreme Court’s decision on the case late May held that Baxter had done nothing wrong, and it was the decision of the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia, Marsh’s organic certifying body, that caused Marsh to lose his organic certification.

In the three-and-a-half year battle, Marsh’s supporters portrayed him as David, the lone organic farmer about to lose his farm to Goliath, none other than agri-giant Monsanto.

Australian journalist Colin Bettles reported in 2011 that the David versus Goliath story marketed in fundraisers for Marsh’s cause misled the public as Marsh was suing his neighbor Baxter, and not Monsanto. Monsanto did not support Baxter financially or participate in the legal battle:

The Baxter family is not receiving any financial assistance from Monsanto for their legal costs, and that company has repeatedly stated it will not pay those costs, even if the matter ends up in court. Monsanto have also declared it has no intention of taking legal action against Mr Marsh for unintended presence of GM canola found on his property.

“It’s a matter between two farmers,” Keryn McLean, Monsanto’s corporate affairs manager in Australia, said.

In a recent article, Bettles pointed out that Marsh’s legal counsel was a prominent lawyer, Richard Niall, from Slater & Gordon Lawyers, a consumer law firm with 70 locations across Australia and 18 in the United Kingdom:

Ironically it was the large, publicly listed law firm Slater & Gordon Lawyers who acted pro-bono for the organic farmer, seizing on the potentially lucrative opportunity of future farmer on farmer legal claims.

Baxter’s lawyer, Brian Bradley, described Slater & Gordon as a “big legal machine with enormous resources,” Bettles reported. Bradley said his firm Bradley Bayly Legal is small to medium sized in comparison to Slater & Gordon.

Read the full, original article: GM case no ‘David and Goliath’ story

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