Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 2, 2012. A U.S. District Court Judge on February 24 dismissed the case of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto and organic farmers, seed growers, and agricultural organizations vowed to fight on. The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to shield farmers from being sued for patent infringement by Monsanto should they become contaminated by drift of the company’s genetically engineered seed, a legal strategy Monsanto has been pursuing for years.
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, challenges Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed. The suit was originally filed on behalf of 60 plaintiffs on March 29, 2011, with 23 new plaintiffs, including Beyond Pesticides joining on June 1. The 83 plaintiffs involved in the suit represent a combined membership in excess of 300,000 people. Daniel Ravicher, lead attorney for the 81 plaintiffs represented in the lawsuit, said, “While I have great respect for Judge [Naomi] Buchwald, her decision to deny farmers the right to seek legal protection from one of the world’s foremost patent bullies is gravely disappointing.” “Her belief,” added Mr. Ravicher, “that farmers are acting unreasonably when they stop growing certain crops to avoid being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement, should their crops become contaminated, maligns the intelligence and integrity of those farmers.”
Mr. Ravicher said the judge failed to address the purpose of the Declaratory Judgment Act and mischaracterized the Supreme Court precedent that supports the farmers’ standing. “In sum, her opinion is flawed on both the facts and the law. Thankfully, the plaintiffs have the right to proceed to the Court of Appeals, which will review the matter without deference to her findings,” the attorney said. Read the Judge’s decision here.
Monsanto’s history of aggressive investigations and lawsuits brought against farmers in America has been a source of concern for organic and non-GMO agricultural producers since Monsanto’s first lawsuit brought against a farmer in the mid-‘90s. Since then, 144 farmers have had lawsuits filed against them by Monsanto for alleged violations of their patented seed technology. Monsanto has sued more than 700 additional farmers who have settled out-of-court, rather than face Monsanto’s belligerent, and well-financed, litigious actions. Seed contamination and pollen drift from genetically engineered crops often migrate to neighboring fields. If Monsanto’s seed technology is found on a farmer’s land without a contract, the farmer can be found liable for patent infringement.
Genetic contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops by pollen that originates from genetically engineered crops and drifts to a neighboring field has been incontrovertibly confirmed by scientific research. It is especially prevalent with the wind-pollinated corn and insect-pollinated canola, whose pollen can travel for two or more miles. Such contamination has proven extremely costly to farmers raising organic and non-genetically engineered crops whose loads are rejected by buyers when trace levels of contamination are detected. Farmers in these circumstances lose any potential price premium for the extra effort and expense taken to preserve their crop’s integrity and they typically have no recourse but to dump the load on generic markets. Under the current interpretation of relevant law, Monsanto bears no legal or financial responsibility for such contamination.
“Family farmers need the protection of the court,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the lead plaintiff. Mr. Gerritsen added, “We reject as naïve and indefensible the Judge’s assertion that Monsanto’s vague public relations ‘commitment [not to sue farmers for ‘trace amounts’ of their seeds with genetically engineered traits], should be ‘a source of comfort’ to plaintiffs. The truth is we are under threat and we do not believe Monsanto.” The plaintiffs brought the suit against Monsanto to seek judicial protection from such lawsuits and challenge the validity of Monsanto’s patents on seeds.
“Monsanto is the big biotechnology bully and has used the courts, for years, to intimidate farmers,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, another plaintiff. “The purpose of our lawsuit is to preemptively challenge its reign of intimidation over organic farmers, and others, who have chosen not to jump on their genetically engineered bandwagon.” Another plaintiff, organic farmer Bryce Stephens of Kansas, added, “As a citizen and property owner, I find the Order by the Federal Court to be obsequious to Monsanto.”
“Seeds are the memory of life,” said Isaura Anduluz of plaintiff Cuatro Puertas in New Mexico. “If planted and saved annually, cross pollination ensures the seeds continue to adapt. In the Southwest, selection over many, many generations has resulted in native drought tolerant corn. Now that a [Monsanto’s] patented drought tolerant corn has been released how do we protect our seeds from contamination and our right to farm?”
Beyond Pesticides is also a plaintiff in another lawsuit involving genetically engineered crops led by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Earthjustice, and farm and environmental groups. The lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) argues that the agency’s 2011 unrestricted approval of genetically engineered alfalfa is unlawful.
Sources: Cornucopia Institute, beyondpesticides.org