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Organic farmers sue Monsanto over seed patenting

by Chris Hinyub, published

When the words 'Monsanto Company' and 'lawsuit' converge in a news story, you can expect to hear about the biotechnology/chemical giant pursuing a patent infringement case against a farmer. Now, the tables have turned.


The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations (several of whom represent California-based interests), have filed suit against Monsanto to protect themselves from liability if their crops are contaminated by genetically modified seeds. Plaintiffs are seeking a ruling that would bar Monsanto from suing if plants from Roundup Ready seeds cross pollinate with non-patented, conventional and organic crops.


Judge Naomi Buchwald of the federal district court in Manhattan will be hearing the case titled Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al v. Monsanto. According to PUBPAT's official press release:


     “The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.”


The plaintiff organizations represent over 270,000 members including thousands of organic certified family farmers who feel increasingly threatened by GMO seed contamination by wind-blown pollen or other means.


     “This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto's transgenic seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director, Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, and plaintiffs' lead attorney in the case. “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”


To justify their case, plaintiffs are challenging the validity of Monsanto's patents. According to Ravicher, GMOs fail to meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law. In its March 29th opening filing, PUBPAT provided evidence that GMO seed has a negative impact on human health and the economy. Plaintiffs also allege that the supposed benefits of GMOs have been falsely advertised. According to the filing, Monsanto's claims that their product increases production and decreases herbicide use are simply not true.


     “Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that's not possible, and it's actually in Monsanto's financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply,” said Ravicher. “Monsanto is the same chemical company that previously brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB's and other toxins, which they said were safe, but we know are not. Now Monsanto says transgenic seed is safe, but evidence clearly shows it is not.”


Several statements made by farmers involved in the case draw from the principles of Natural Law. Rose Marie Burroughs of California Cloverleaf Farms was one of them:


     “The devastation caused by GMO contamination is an ecological catastrophe to our world equal to the fall out of nuclear radiation. Nature, farming and health are all being affected by GMO contamination. We must protect our world by protecting our most precious, sacred resource of seed sovereignty. People must have the right to the resources of the earth for our sustenance. We must have the freedom to farm that causes no harm to the environment or to other people. We must protect the environment, farmers livelihood, public health and people’s right to non GMO food contamination.”


Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute sums up the intentions of the plaintiffs:


     “Family-scale farmers desperately need the judiciary branch of our government to balance the power Monsanto is able to wield in the marketplace and in the courts. Monsanto, and the biotechnology industry, have made great investments in our executive and legislative branches through campaign contributions and powerful lobbyists in Washington. We need the court system to offset this power and protect individual farmers from corporate tyranny. Farmers have saved seeds since the beginning of agriculture by our species. It is outrageous that one corporate entity, through the trespass of what they refer to as their 'technology,' can intimidate and run roughshod over family farmers in this country. It should be the responsibility of Monsanto, and farmers licensing their technology, to ensure that genetically engineered DNA does not trespass onto neighboring farmland. It is outrageous, that through no fault of their own, farmers are being intimidated into not saving seed for fear that they will be doggedly pursued through the court system and potentially bankrupted.”


To see PUBPAT's official press release which contains more compelling statements made by organic organization leaders and a full plaintiff list for the case, visit this link.

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