Family Farmers Charge Ahead in Battle Against Monsanto

July 5th, 2012

— Copyright 123RF Stock Photos

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Seventy-five family farmers, seed businesses, and agricultural organizations representing over 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms filed a brief today with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington asking the appellate court to reverse a lower court’s decision from February dismissing their protective legal action against agricultural giant Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed.

The Cornucopia Institute is among the parties to the appeal.

The plaintiffs brought the pre-emptive case against Monsanto in March 2011 specifically seeking to defend themselves from nearly two dozen of Monsanto’s most aggressively asserted patents on GMO seed. They were forced to act pre-emptively to protect themselves from Monsanto’s abusive lawsuits, fearing that if GMO seed contaminates their property despite their efforts to prevent such contamination, Monsanto will sue them for patent infringement.

“Monsanto is known for bullying farmers by making baseless accusations of patent infringement,” said attorney Dan Ravicher of the not-for-profit legal services organization Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), which represents the plaintiffs in the suit against Monsanto known as Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v Monsanto.

Monsanto’s harassment of family farmers is well known in farm country, the biotech seed and chemical giant has one of the most aggressive patent assertion agendas in U.S. history.  Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto has acknowledged filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 cases out of court for undisclosed amounts and imposing gag orders on farmers. 

Despite the fact that the plaintiffs are at risk for being contaminated by genetically modified seed and then sued for patent infringement by Monsanto, Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case last February because she didn’t find a case worthy of adjudication, saying “it is clear that these circumstances do not amount to a substantial controversy and that there has been no injury traceable to defendants.”

Plaintiffs feel otherwise. Two of the plaintiffs submitted sworn declarations in the case highlighting the prevalence of contamination by genetically modified seed. Both Chuck Noble, an alfalfa farmer from South Dakota, and Fedco Seeds, a seed distributor in Maine, have repeatedly discovered GMO contamination in purportedly conventional seed they sought to purchase. To protect themselves from being contaminated, they have had to adopt expensive and time-consuming genetic testing procedures.

“We have a right to farm the way we choose,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA). “Yet Monsanto is unwilling to control their GMO pollution and they refuse to sign a binding covenant not-to-sue our family farmers for patent infringement should their seed contaminate our crops. Monsanto’s publicized ‘Commitment’ promising that they would not sue farmers was described by Monsanto’s own lawyers as being ‘vague.’ The law says we deserve protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act. We will continue to pursue our right to farm, and the right of our customers to have access to good clean food and seed.”

“We need the courts to protect farmers and consumers from genetic trespass and pollution of our food chain,” said Mark Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a corporate and governmental watchdog in the organic industry.  “This lawsuit is critical to the future of organic food and agriculture.”

Other plaintiffs have simply stopped growing certain types of crops due to the threat of contamination. Bryce Stephens, a certified organic farmer from northwest Kansas, had to give up on trying to grow organic corn and soy once his neighbors started using Monsanto’s genetically modified seed because it could easily spread onto his property and contaminate his organic crops, which would put him at risk of being sued for patent infringement by Monsanto.

“It’s time to end Monsanto’s scorched earth legal campaign of threats and intimidation against America’s farmers. Family farmers should be protected by the courts against the unwanted genetic contamination of their crops,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots community of more than 300,000 farmers and citizens dedicated to reforming food and agriculture that is co-plaintiff in the suit.

In the brief filed today, the plaintiffs point out numerous errors in the district court decision that warrant reversal. Among them are the lower court’s failure to accept certain facts alleged by the plaintiffs that were undisputed by Monsanto, application of too harsh a legal standard on the plaintiffs to show the existence of a controversy, and neglect of public policy that encourages broad jurisdiction be available to those challenging bogus patents like Monsanto’s.

The brief filed by the plaintiffs with the Court of Appeals is available here.

More information about PUBPAT’s suit against Monsanto’s seed patents can be found at PUBPAT > Monsanto Seed Patents.

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