Farmers Fight Back Against Monsanto – Update
In March, HFA reported about the large group of family farmers, seed companies, and agricultural organizations and The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filing suit against Monsanto. They were preemptively defending themselves against being sued for patent infringement.
Monsanto filed a motion in July to have the case dismissed, but the plaintiffs, the Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, fought to keep the case open. They filed an amici brief. More details and updates follow below.
Farmers Defend Right to Protect Themselves From Monsanto Patents
Farmers and Seed Distributors Defend Right to Protect Themselves From Monsanto Patents
Organizations File Amici to Defend Plaintiffs’ Right to Trial and Respond to Monsanto’s Attempt to Dismiss Case
New York – August 11, 2011 – The 83 family farmers, small and family owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed filed papers in federal court today defending their right to seek legal protection from the threat of being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) represents the plaintiffs in the suit, titled Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association(OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto and pending in the Southern District of New York. Today’s filings respond to a motion filed by Monsanto in mid-July to have the case dismissed. In support of the plantiffs’ right to bring the case, 12 agricultural organizations also filed a friend-of-the-court amici brief.
“Rather than give a straight forward answer on whether they would sue our clients for patent infringement if they are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed, Monsanto has instead chosen to try to deny our clients the right to receive legal protection from the courts,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director. “Today’s filings include sworn statements by several of the plaintiffs themselves explaining to the court how the risk of contamination by transgenic seed is real and why they cannot trust Monsanto to not use an occurrence of contamination as a basis to accuse them of patent infringement.”
It is now virtually impossible for a U.S. farmer to grow crops of their choosing (corn, soybeans, canola, etc.) and remain GMO-free because of the numerous biological and human means by which seeds can spread. “Given the difficulties in minimizing GM contamination farmers must make numerous decisions about which steps are worthwhile for them and which steps are not. They are not able to make these decisions based on their own and their customers‘ interests, but must instead make these decisions with the threat of litigation from a giant corporation looming over their head,” Spiegel writes in the amici brief. “The constant threat of a patent infringement suit by Monsanto creates significant, unquantifiable costs for Plaintiff farmers and similarly situated farmers.” The plaintiffs can do everything possible to maintain non-contaminated seeds, and will very likely still become contaminated, and be placed under the threat of a lawsuit. As Monsanto’s domination of the seed industry grows, and the winds continue to disperse pollen from their GMO laced crops, the likelihood of contamination and lawsuits only increases.
Monsanto has stated that they would not sue farmers who were “inadvertently” contaminated or farmers whose crops contain “trace amounts” of GMO, however they have refused to sign a simple covenant not to sue, that would bring an effective end to the lawsuit.
Monsanto’s track record makes it clear that Monsanto intends to continue threatening and harassing farmers. “Monsanto has undertaken one of the most aggressive patent assertion campaigns in history,” wrote Ravicher. Monsanto admits to filing 128 lawsuits against farmers from 1997-2010, settling out of court with 700 others for an undisclosed amount. As Spiegel writes, “The passage of time and natural biological processes will inevitably lead to higher contamination levels, at which point Monsanto will have created a target-rich environment for its patent enforcement activities.”
Plaintiffs Bryce Stephens, who farms in Kansas and serves as vice president of OSGATA, Frederick Kirschenmann, who farms in North Dakota, C.R. Lawn, who is founder and co-owner of Fedco Seeds in Maine, Don Patterson of Virginia and Chuck Noble, who farms in South Dakota, each submitted declarations to the court describing their personal experiences with the risk of contamination by genetically modified seed and why those experiences have forced them to bring the current suit. As summarized by the accompanying brief filed by PUBPAT on the plaintiffs’ behalf, “Monsanto’s acts of widespread patent assertion and the plaintiffs’ ever growing risk of contamination create a real, immediate and substantial dispute between them.”
In their brief, the amici describe some of the harmful effects of genetically modified seed and how easily GMOs can contaminate an organic or conventional farmer’s land. The organizations filing the amici brief were Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Ecological Farmers of Ontario, Fair Food Matters, International Organic Inspectors Association, Michigan Land Trustees, Natural Environment Ecological Management, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Association, Organic Council of Ontario, Slow Food USA, and Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.