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As the saying goes, change is the only constant in life.

To keep up with the demands of society and with the advancement of technology, the agricultural industry in South Australia has continued to evolve over the years.

The cultivation of genetically-modified (GM) crops in South Australia has been a passionately debated issue for more than the last decade. This led to the introduction and enactment of the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004 to regulate the use of GM crops in South Australia.

Following this, regulations were enacted to ban the cultivation of GM crops in SA. The ban, initially due to expire in September 2019, was extended to 2025.

However, in 2020 the Act was amended and the ban has now been lifted other than on Kangaroo Island. Farmers are now able to cultivate GM crops in mainland SA. As most people would be aware, Councils were given a once off chance to seek to be declared as an area where GM food crops could not be grown. None of the 11 Councils which applied were successful.

Having the freedom of now cultivating GM crops, it will be interesting to see what further legal issues might arise.

In Western Australia, GM crops have been able to be grown for some time. In the early 2010’s there was a case involving GM crops which went all the way to the High Court. The dispute arose between two farmers, Steve Marsh, who operated a farm which was certified organic, and Michael Baxter, who had planted GM canola crops on his property. Mr Marsh asserted that he lost the organic certification of his property as a result of GM canola crops blowing onto his land from Mr Baxter’s property.

The various courts which dealt with the case all concluded that Mr Baxter had no liability to Mr Marsh, as he had not acted negligently and could not be held responsible for just growing and harvesting a GM crop in a conventional way.

What appeared to be important in this instance is that there was no negligence on Mr Baxter’s part which led to the GM canola spreading to the adjoining land. It is an interesting question as to what the Court would have done if there had been some negligence on the part of Mr Baxter which led to the GM canola spreading.

Whilst the future of GM crops cultivation remain a dynamic area with a significant potential for positive economic benefits, the extent for potential legal ramifications remain an evolving area of interest and it is a case of ‘watch this space’.

This article was published in The Stock Journal on 11 February 2021.