(Beyond Pesticides, March 31, 2011) In an effort to protect them from patent infringement in the event of drift contamination by Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seed, 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations preemptively filed suit against the agribusiness giant. The case, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan on behalf of Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. 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 year has seen a series of decisions by USDA to allow the unrestricted cultivation of genetically engineered crops. In January, USDA announced plans to fully deregulate GE alfalfa seed, despite contamination risks it poses to both organic and conventional farmers. Then, in February, a federal appeals court decided to reverse a federal order to destroy GE sugar beet seedlings. Most GE crops are engineered to be immune to the herbicide glyphosate, which Monsanto markets as Roundup. Currently, USDA data show that 93% of all the alfalfa planted by farmers in the U.S. is grown without the use of any herbicides. The recent decision to fully deregulate GE alfalfa fails to take several scientifically-validated environmental concerns, such as the indiscriminate nature of GE gene flow in crops, a heavy reliance on faulty data, and a high degree of uncertainties in making safety determinations.
“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. “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.”
Specifically, PUBPAT asks the presiding judge in the case, Judge Naomi Buchwald, to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, they need not fear accusations of patent infringement. One justification 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, plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case. Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing shows 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.
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, Jr.
Beyond Pesticides is currently involved with another lawsuit concerning GE crops lead by attorneys for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Earthjustice, and farm and environmental groups. The lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), argues that the agency’s recent unrestricted approval of GE alfalfa is unlawful.
Center for Food Safety’s senior attorney and counsel for the lawsuit to be filed against the USDA regarding GE alfalfa, George Kimbrell, is scheduled to speak at Beyond Pesticides’ “Sustainable Community – Practical solutions for health and the environment,” April 8-9 in Denver, CO. Among other cases, Mr. Kimbrell was counsel in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms (2010), the first case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on the impacts of GE crops.