(Beyond Pesticides, January 15, 2013) The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on Monday in the landmark federal lawsuit Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto, limiting the ability of farmers to protect themselves from genetic drift. An earlier Appeals Court decision in the case acknowledged genetic drift as inevitable and evoked a public commitment from Monsanto that it would not sue farmers faced with contamination of crops containing “trace amounts” of the company’s patented genes. In the past, Monsanto has claimed that farmers were responsible and liable for its genetic property being found on land farmed by farmers who did not pay to cultivate the company’s genetically engineered crop.
The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal and reinstate the suit, denying farmers the right to argue their case in court and gain greater protection from potential abuse by the agrichemical and genetic engineering giant, Monsanto. Additionally, the high court decision dashes the hopes of family farmers who sought the opportunity to prove in court Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed patents are invalid.
The case, originally filed on behalf of several plaintiffs on March 29, 2011, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, challenges Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified (GM) seed. The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to shield farmers from being sued for patent infringement by Monsanto should they become contaminated by drift of the company’s genetically engineered seed, a legal strategy Monsanto has been pursuing for years. In 2012, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the case denying farmers the right to seek legal protection from one of the world’s foremost patent bullies. An appeal was filed a few months later in the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to reinstate the case. In June 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the plaintiffs were not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents, affirming the previous court’s 2012 decision that the plaintiffs did not present a sufficient controversy to warrant adjudication by the courts. The Appeals Court decision is considered a partial victory for the plaintiffs because of the acknowledgement of drift and Monsanto’s promise not to sue farmers for “trace amounts” of contamination of crops containing its patented genes.
“While the Supreme Court’s decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto’s patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits,” said Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto. “Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than one percent. For farmers contaminated by more than one percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto’s patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers.”
The Organic Seed plaintiffs’ complaint details Monsanto’s abusive business and litigation tactics that have put several farmers and independent seed companies out of business. It also detailed Monsanto’s history of ruthless patent enforcement, going so far as investigating hundreds of farmers each year for patent infringement. The plaintiffs further detailed the harms caused to society by Monsanto’s GMO seed, including the proliferation of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” and environmental pollution, and sought Court protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act that should they become the innocent victims of contamination by Monsanto’s patented gene-splice technology they could not perversely be sued for patent infringement.
“The Supreme Court failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in,” said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of lead plaintiff OSGATA. “The Court of Appeals agreed our case had merit. However, the safeguards they ordered are insufficient to protect our farms and our families. This high court which gave corporations the ability to patent life forms in 1980, and under Citizens United in 2010 gave corporations the power to buy their way to election victories, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto.”
In a related situation, Canadian soybean farmer Stephen Webster of Ontario experienced just how abusive Monsanto can be in the treatment of innocent contamination victims. Through no fault of his own Mr. Webster, who farms with his elderly father, had his 2012 identify-preserved (IP) non-GMO soybean crop contaminated by Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered seed. Their soybeans were ruined for export to specialty markets in Japan. “First Monsanto claimed we had too many bees and that we were at fault for the contaminated crop,” said Mr. Webster. “Then they threatened to run up $100,000 in legal bills that we would have to pay.” Tragically, Mr. Webster’s story is the norm in farm country, with Monsanto using its extreme economic power to silence family farmers even before they can legally defend themselves.
Monsanto’s history of aggressive investigations and lawsuits brought against farmers in America has been a source of concern for organic and non-GMO agricultural producers since Monsanto’s first lawsuit brought against a farmer in the mid-”˜90s. Since then, 144 farmers have had lawsuits filed against them by Monsanto for alleged violations of their patented seed technology. Monsanto has sued more than 700 additional farmers who have settled out-of-court, rather than face Monsanto’s belligerent, and well-financed, litigious actions. Seed contamination and pollen drift from genetically engineered crops often migrate to neighboring fields. If Monsanto’s seed technology is found on a farmer’s land without a contract, the farmer can be found liable for patent infringement. Genetic contamination of organic and non-genetically engineered crops by pollen that originates from genetically engineered crops and drifts to a neighboring field has been irrefutably confirmed by scientific research. It is especially prevalent with the wind-pollinated corn and insect-pollinated canola, whose pollen can travel for two or more miles. Such contamination has proven extremely costly to farmers raising organic and non-genetically engineered crops whose loads are rejected by buyers when trace levels of contamination are detected.
Notably, none of the plaintiffs are customers of Monsanto. None have signed licensing agreements with Monsanto. The plaintiffs do not want Monsanto’s seed and they do not want Monsanto’s gene-spliced technology and have sought legal protection from significant economic harm to their businesses and way of life.
“We have a fourth generation farm,” said organic dairy farmer and plaintiff Rose Marie Burroughs of California Cloverleaf Farms. “Monsanto cannot be trusted. Their refusal to provide a binding legal covenant not to sue our fellow farmers would make anyone wonder, what are their real motives? GMO contamination levels can easily rise above 1% and then we would have zero protection from a costly and burdensome lawsuit.”
Significant contamination events, including Starlink corn and LibertyLink rice, have already cost farmers and the food companies nearly $2 billion dollars. In the past year alone, the discovery of Monsanto’s illegal GMO wheat in an Oregon farmer’s field and GMO alfalfa in Washington state sent foreign markets, where GMOs are not wanted, reeling. In both instances farmers’ economic livelihoods were put at risk as buyers in foreign markets refused to buy the GMO contaminated crops.
“If Monsanto can patent seeds for financial gain, they should be forced to pay for contaminating a farmer’s field, not be allowed to sue them. Once again, America’s farmers have been denied justice, while Monsanto’s reign of intimidation is allowed to continue in rural America,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots advocacy group based in Iowa and a plaintiff in the case.
“Monsanto has effectively gotten away with stealing the world’s seed heritage and abusing farmers for the flawed nature of their patented seed technology. This is an outrage of historic proportions and will not stand,” said Mr. Murphy.
The plaintiffs in this case include 83 individual American and Canadian family farmers, independent seed companies and agricultural organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, many non-GMO farmers and over 25% of North America’s certified organic farmers.
For more information on the environmental hazards associated with GE technology, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Genetic Engineering webpage. The best way to avoid genetically engineered foods in the marketplace is to purchase foods that have the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Seal. Under organic certification standards, genetically modified organisms and their byproducts are prohibited. For many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers.
Source:Food Democracy NOW