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Jan 312012
 

From Green Right Now Reports

A lawsuit against Monsanto filed on behalf of organic farmers and independent seed businesses went before a judge Tuesday in the Southern District Court in Manhattan, as Monsanto sought to dismiss the case.

No Monsanto crop circle. (Photo: OSGTA)

The suit, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA) et al. v. Monsanto, asks the court for relief from Monsanto’s tactic of suing organic farmers whose fields become contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seeds.

You read that right. Monsanto has been suing farmers whose fields become contaminated with GE crops devised by Monsanto, even though in the vast majority, if not all, of these cases, this contamination was inadvertent and the GE seeds unwanted.

Monsanto has been suing farmers whose crops have been found to be contaminated, claiming patent infringement or the theft of intellectual property, for more than a decade. Between 1997 and April 2010, the company filed 144 lawsuits against farmers in 27 states for patent infringement or breach of license for “using” it’s GE products, according to the lawsuit.

The agribusiness giant maintains it is protecting its bio-engineered seeds and crops. But farm activists say the company is trying to kill all competition and become the sole proprietor of crop seeds.

The irony is that the organic producers who’ve faced Monsanto’s wrath want nothing to do with GE seeds or crops. But these GE seeds, which dominate farming in America, accounting for more than 80 percent of the corn, sugar beets, canola and soybeans grown in the US, drift in on the winds, or become mixed with organic seeds during seed or crop processing.

Organic farmers, whose certifications are based on running chemical-free operations, find themselves doubly threatened by Monsanto’s GE creations. The GE seeds, which are developed to be used with herbicides, contaminate organic crops by introducing foreign genetic material via cross-pollination, thereby compromising the purity of their organic crops and the organic farmer’s certification. The second threat comes when Monsanto sends lawyers in to sue the organic farmer who has unwittingly “used” its seeds.

The St. Louis-based agribusiness giant has sued and ruined dozens of farmers over this issue in recent years. Few farmers win these cases, being outgunned by the millions the St. Louis-based company has devoted to defending its GE crops.

In March 2011, organic farming activists decided to counter attack. The OSGATA, whose membership has swelled to more than 30,000, filed suit on behalf of 60 organic farmers, seed companies and organic agricultural organizations. The lawsuit asks the court to stop Monsanto from suing and bankrupting farmers who haven’t bowed to their system, and ultimately to declare Monsanto’s seed patents unenforceable and invalid.

OSGATA explains the case in the introduction to its lawsuit:

“This case is about real farmers and real seed businesses who wish to use organic and conventional seed, but who are at substantial risk of being contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed and then being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement…Monsanto has undertaken one of the most aggressive patent assertion campaigns in history, including asserting its patents on transgenic seed against parties who, like Plaintiffs, never wanted to use or distribute such seed.”

“As a result each of the Plaintiffs is under constant fear of being contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed and then sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. The fear is so severe for some of the complainants that they are completely forgoing growing certain crops that they could easily grow and would like to grow.”

The lawsuit chronicles the problems some of the organic farmer and seed operator plaintiffs have faced from Monsanto, whose strong-arm tactics have become legendary in the organic community. They include:

  • Bryce Stephens, a Kansas farmer who grows a variety of crops on a 1,000 acre farm. He had to stop growing corn and sorghum for fear that these crops would become contaminated by Monsanto seed and then he would face a financially devastating lawsuit.
  • Frederick Kirschenmann, a third-generation farmer in Windsor, ND., who operates a 3,500-acre certified organic farm. The Kirschenmanns had to give up farming organic canola because the risk of becoming contaminated by Monsanto canola was too high. This cost the family $25,000 to $50,000 per year, according to the lawsuit, and deprives them of using canola as a rotation crop in their organic production.
  • Fedco Seeds, a seed cooperative in Maine, sells conventional and organic seeds, includingcorn, soybeans and alfalfa. This firm contracts others to grow its seed supply and operates in fear of inadvertent contamination, which would precipitate a Monsanto lawsuit. Protecting against contamination increasingly requires expensive testing, which reduces profit margins. As a direct Monsanto competitor, Fedco fears it will be targeted should any contaminated seed slip into its system.

While lawyers argued the case in federal court, activists gathered at Foley Square outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan US Courthouse, chanting and providing a human megaphone, ala Occupy style, to speakers who emphasized that anyone who eats food has a stake in the debate over GE crops.

Bob St. Peter, a Maine farmer, urged the gathered crowd to recognize its shared interests as “farmers, eaters, peasant and fisher folks” and asked them to fight for GM labeling on foods, which would help consumers support non-GMO and organic growers and retailers.

He derided Monsanto for being able to “insulate themselves from any type of liability, while they contaminate our food.”

Many food activists believe that GE foods are dangerous, because the effects of the transgenic transformations have not been well studied and go beyond basic hybridization techniques.

One speaker, whose name could not be heard above the crowd, urged those attending to recognize that declining food quality has contributed to diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

“The phyto-chemicals that were in this vital food are becoming less and less prevalent as we institutionalize our farming methods,” he said. “This health issue must be presented to the courts and our politicians for us to support farmers in the maintenance of the integrity of the food supply.”

  • Read more  here about why OSGATA considers organic seeds to be superior.