More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic — and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields.
Consumers are powerful. For more than a decade, a cultural shift has seen shoppers renounce the faster-fatter-bigger-cheaper mindset of factory farms, exposéd in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. From heirloom tomatoes to heritage chickens, we want our food slow, sustainable, and local — healthy for the earth, healthy for animals, and healthy for our bodies.
But with patented seeds infiltrating the environment so fully, organic itself is at risk. Monsanto’s widely used Genuity® Roundup Ready® canola seed has already turned heirloom canola oil into an extinct species. The suing farmers are seeking to prevent similar contamination of organic corn, soybeans, and a host of other crops. What’s more, they’re seeking to prevent Monsanto from accusing them of unlawfully using the very seeds they’re trying to avoid.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement,” says Public Patent Foundation director Dan Ravicher in a Cornucopia Institute article about the farmers’ lawsuit (May 30, 2011), “but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”
Even as the megacorporation enjoys soaring stock, the U.S. justice department continues to look into allegations of its fraudulent antitrust practices (The Street, June 29, 2011):
“Monsanto, which has acquired more than 20 of the nation’s biggest seed producers and sellers over the last decade, has long pursued a strict policy with its customers, obligating them to buy its bioengineered seeds every year rather than use them in multiple planting seasons. Farmers who disobey are blacklisted forever.”
It’s a wide net Monsanto has cast over the agricultural landscape. As Ravicher points out, “it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.” Imagine a world devoid of naturally vigorous traditional crops and controlled by a single business with a appetite for intellectual property. Did anyone else feel a cold wind pass through them? Now imagine a world where thousands of family farmers fight the good fight to continue giving consumers a choice in their food — and win.
FARMERS AND SEED PRODUCERS LAUNCH PREEMPTIVE STRIKE AGAINST MONSANTO
The Cornucopia Institute
March 30th, 2011
Lawsuit Filed To Protect Themselves from Unfair Patent Enforcement on Genetically Modified Seed
Action Would Prohibit Biotechnology Giant from Suing Organic Farmers and Seed Growers If Innocently Contaminated by Roundup Ready Genes
NEW York: On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto Company challenging the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their crops ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed.
Monsanto has sued farmers in the United States and Canada, in the past, when their patented genetic material has inadvertently contaminated their crops.
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald. Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community who are increasingly threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it. The plaintiff organizations have over 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.
“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director. “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.”
Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed can contaminate and destroy organic seed for the same crop. For example, soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, organic canola became virtually impossible to grow as a result of contamination.
Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa also face the same fate, as Monsanto has released genetically modified seed for each of those crops as well.
Monsanto is currently developing genetically modified seed for many other crops, thus putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture, at stake.
“Monsanto’s threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto’s genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now,” stated Jim Gerritsen, a family farmer in Maine who raises organic seed and is President of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. “Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families.”
“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,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, one of the plaintiffs. “Monsanto, and the biotechnology industry, have made great investments in our executive and legislative branches through campaign contributions and powerful lobbyists in Washington.”
In the case, PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement. One reason justifying this result is that Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law, according to PUBPAT’s Ravicher, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case.
“Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing today proves that genetically modified seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of genetically modified seed – increased production and decreased herbicide use – are false,” added Ravicher who is also a Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
Ravicher continued, “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.”
The plaintiffs in the suit represented by PUBPAT are: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.; OCIA Research and Education Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems; Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; FEDCO Seeds Inc.; Adaptive Seeds, LLC; Sow True Seed; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC; Comstock, Ferre & Co., LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics; Cuatro Puertas; Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.; Alba Ranch; Wild Plum Farm; Gratitude Gardens; Richard Everett Farm, LLC; Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc; Genesis Farm; Chispas Farms LLC; Kirschenmann Family Farms Inc.; Midheaven Farms; Koskan Farms; California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm; Taylor Farms, Inc.; Jardin del Alma; Ron Gargasz Organic Farms; Abundant Acres; T & D Willey Farms; Quinella Ranch; Nature’s Way Farm Ltd.; Levke and Peter Eggers Farm; Frey Vineyards, Ltd.; Bryce Stephens; Chuck Noble; LaRhea Pepper; Paul Romero; and, Donald Wright Patterson,