Organic growers are not giving up on the seed patent lawsuit filed against biotech giant Monsanto. The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association court action was thwarted late last year when an Appellate Court ruled in favor of the agriculture industry leader. The recently filed brief by the Public Patent Foundation appears to be an effort to help protect the organic farmers.
The 73 various organizations and individual farmers filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the biotech giant to halt the company’s GMO seed patents claims, and to prohibit more lawsuits against land owners who have had their crops contaminated by genetically modified seeds – instances when the landowners did not want GMO plants.
The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in June upheld a decision by a lower court which stated that non-GMO and organic farmers cannot prevent Monsanto from filing lawsuits against them if unwanted seeds in their fields wind up having patented genetic traits registered to the company. The circuit court said that’s because “Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not ‘take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes.” That decision was appealed to the US Supreme Court.
To date, Monsanto has sued more than 100 farmers in patent infringement cases. Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel in the lawsuit, said the circuit court was wrong.
“While the Court of Appeals correctly found that the farmers and seed sellers had standing to challenge Monsanto’s invalid patents, it incorrectly found that statements made by Monsanto’s lawyers during the lawsuit mooted the case. As a result, we have asked the Supreme Court to take the case and reinstate the right of the plaintiffs to seek full protection from Monsanto’s invalid transgenic seed patents.”
In the past, the company sued agricultural businesses on the grounds that Monsanto seeds were “used” without paying a royalty fee. Farmers have basically no protection from Monsanto and similar companies if their fields are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified seeds.
Jim Gerritsen, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association president, had this to say about the lawsuit:
“We have been farming for almost forty years and we have never wanted anything to do with Monsanto. We believe we have the right to farm and grow good food the way we choose. We don’t think it’s fair that Monsanto can trespass onto our farm, contaminate and ruin our crops and then sue us for infringing on their patent rights. We don’t want one penny from Monsanto. American farmers deserve their day in Court so we can prove to the world Monsanto’s genetically engineered patents are invalid and that farmers deserve protection from Monsanto’s abuse.”
In one case that had serious economic repercussions, GMO alfalfa was found in a field in Washington state. The farmer did not buy, plant or want genetically modified alfalfa during the summer months of 2013. The state Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of Roundup Ready resistant traits when the farmer requested testing. The farmer would not have even known that his alfalfa was considered genetically engineered if an agricultural broker had not refused to purchase the crop due to the non-GMO nature of the alfalfa.
Monsanto maintains that the appeal to the Supreme Court is baseless.
“The District Court ruled and Court of Appeals affirmed that there was no controversy between the parties,” the company said in a statement. “There is neither a history of behavior nor a reasonable likelihood that Monsanto will pursue patent infringement against farmers who have no interest in using the company’s patented seed products.”
The company, though, did not offer any guarantees in the statement that it won’t sue farmers who have unwanted GMO seeds in their fields. Of course, any promise not to enter into lengthy and expensive litigation will be of little comfort to farmers who cannot find buyers for their crops because it has been genetically modified. Bees, birds, wind, and rain all have the potential to transfer GMO seeds from a Monsanto-loving farmer’s field into an organic growing area. There also is the possibility of cross-fertilization from bees. Losing an entire growing season due to unintended GMO presence in the crop can quickly sink an organic or non-GMO farm.
American farmers are not the only group attempting to stand up to mega biotech companies. Environmental groups are suing the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over the cultivation of genetically modified crops inside wildlife refuges. Portions of the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District, which is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, have been cultivated due to a cooperative agreement with FWS and specific farmers, for decades. This specific refuge is integral to the survival of several species of birds and waterfowl. The civil actions claims that the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to meet the legally mandated guidelines for reviewing the environmental impact of GMO farming in the protected lands.
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