Family Farmers vs. Monsanto

December 26th, 2013

Organic Seed Growers, Family Farmers File Brief in Final Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Their Crops from Contamination and to Invalidate Monsanto’s GMO Patents

jimfoodjustice-189x300NEW YORK: Last week, the Public Patent Foundation filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto, in the hopes that the highest court in the land would hear and reinstate the case of 73 American organic and conventional family farmers, seed businesses and public advocacy groups that seek protection for America’s farmers from Monsanto’s frivolous patent infringement lawsuits, and their promiscuous genetically engineered pollen, while also seeking to invalidate the patents on 23 of Monsanto’s GMO crops.

Earlier this month, Monsanto filed an opposition brief in an effort to deny farmers attempt to rein in what they feel is inappropriate and strong-arm tactics by the giant biotechnology leader..

“In opposing our request that the Supreme Court take, and then reinstate, our case, Monsanto makes the same lame and untrue assertions that it made before,” said Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto. “In our reply brief filed with the Supreme Court we point out precisely why Monsanto is wrong and that the case should be allowed to proceed,” said Ravicher.

In a June 10th ruling, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., issued a, with the farm groups called a “bizarre,” ruling that the plaintiffs are not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents. The ruling stated, “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.” The only evidence of such appears without attribution on the company’s website.

The farm groups state they find the appellate court ruling, ” inconclusive and insufficient to protect their future economic interests,” since the Appeals court readily acknowledged that contamination from Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops is “inevitable.”

Despite dismissing the farmers’ and seed growers’ case, the Court of Appeals ruling found the likelihood of contamination significant enough to order by estoppel that Monsanto make good on its promise not to sue farmers that are “inadvertently contaminated with up to one percent of seeds carrying Monsanto’s patented traits.”

“As a seed grower, who has spent the past 37 years of my life protecting and maintaining the integrity of my seed stock to provide clean, wholesome food to my customers, I find it unconscionable that Monsanto can contaminate mine or my neighbors’ crops and not only get away with it, but potentially sue us for patent infringement,” said Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer in Maine and President of lead Plaintiff OSGATA. “The appeals court ruling fails to protect my family and our farm and has only complicated matters,” said Gerritsen.

Because of the insidious nature of GMO contamination, and the fact that pollen naturally blows or migrates to neighboring fields, contamination of farmers’ fields is both predictable and widely acknowledged as unavoidable.

Already, reports of contamination across North America exceeding one percent (a threshold widely used for marketing organic and non-GMO crops) have led an increasing number of farmers to incur considerable costs in testing and/or having their commodities rejected by domestic and export buyers.

A number of significant contamination events happened in the U.S. this year alone, including an unapproved experimental variety of Monsanto’s GMO wheat discovered in a farmer’s field in Oregon this past May. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the illegal GMO wheat had been field-tested between 1998 through 2005, but never approved by the USDA. Its discovery sent shockwaves through international markets and caused Japan and South Korea to halt shipments of U.S. wheat for more than a month.

An additional contamination episode occurred in September when a Washington state farmer reported that his hay was rejected for export because it tested positive for contamination from Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa.

“For farmers, recent events in Washington and Oregon make clear that the damages of contamination are far-reaching in their impacts on farmer’s economic survival, can be permanent and irreversible in their harm to our food supply and only can be properly redressed by a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots advocacy group based in Iowa and a plaintiff in the case.

Farmers expect to learn whether or not the U.S Supreme Court will hear their case sometime next year and say they are eagerly await their day in court.

“The USDA, during the most recent Republican and Democratic administrations, has shirked their responsibility to protect the interests of family-scale farmers from genetic trespass and intimidation by the biotechnology industry,” said Will Fantle, Codirector for The Cornucopia Institute, another plaintiff. “It’s now up to the Supreme Court to assure that are seed supply, and the nation’s food, is not genetically polluted.”

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Complete background on the OSGATA et al v. Monsanto lawsuit is available here.

About OSGATA: The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association is a not-for-profit agricultural organization comprised of organic farmers, seed growers, seed businesses and supporters. OSGATA is committed to developing, promoting, and protecting organic seed and its growers in order to ensure the organic community has access to excellent quality organic seed free of contaminants and adapted to the diverse needs of local organic agriculture. www.osgata.org

About Food Democracy Now: Food Democracy Now! is a grassroots movement of more than 650,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to building a sustainable food system that protects our natural environment, sustains farmers and nourishes families.

About The Cornucopia Institute: The Cornucopia Institute, through research and investigations on agricultural and food issues, provides needed information to family farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the good food movement and to the media. We support economic justice for the family-scale farming community – partnered with consumers – backing ecologically produced local, organic and authentic food.

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