Family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations filed suit against Monsanto in New York court on March 30th. According to the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) which filed on their behalf, the plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from future accusations of patent infringement when Monsanto's genetically modified seed contaminates their crops, something which cannot be prevented once GM seeds are released.
"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," said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
A broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community, representing some 270,000 members are plaintiffs in the suit, and many explained the need for the suit in a statement issued by PUBPAT.
"Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that's not possible, and it's actually in Monsanto's financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply," said Ravicher.
The release of GM canola contaminated organic canola, leading to its near extinction. Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now are now under threat. The agricultural monolith plans to develop GM seed for many crops, which farmers claim threatens the future of food.
"We are rapidly approaching the tipping point when we will be unable to avoid GMOs in our fields and on our plates," said Dr. Carol Goland, Ph.D. of one of the plaintiff organizations. "That is the inevitable consequence of releasing genetically engineered materials into the environment."
The challenge to Monsanto's patents rests on evidence of the negative economic and health effects of GM seed, which the organic groups argue invalidates the legal requirement for "usefulness" under patent law.
"None of Monsanto's original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers," said David Murphy, founder and Executive Director of plaintiff Food Democracy Now! "Rather than increased yields or less chemical usage, farmers are facing more crop diseases, an onslaught of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and increased costs from additional herbicide application."
In "The Battle for Biodiversity: Monsanto and Farmers Clash," a current article in the Atlantic, Anna Lappe asks, "Does genetic modification lead to more and better crops? Or will it destroy the foundations of our food systems?"
"Corporate control of seeds and relaxed laws for biotech promotion spur innovation and productivity. That may sound good," Lappe writes. "But many other groups around the world look at the real-world effects of 20 years of patent approvals and the spread of biotech crops. These critics argue that corporate power over seeds has actually undermined biodiversity and food-system resilience."
"Crop biotechnology has been a miserable failure economically and biologically and now threatens to undermine the basic freedoms that farmers and consumers have enjoyed in our constitutional democracy," said Murphy.
"It is outrageous that one corporate entity, through the trespass of what they refer to as their 'technology,' can intimidate and run roughshod over family farmers," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, one of the plaintiffs. He contends that Monsanto and the farmers licensing its technology should be the ones required to ensure that genetically engineered DNA does not trespass onto neighboring farmland.
"This debate is significant," Lappe contends. "Which side we listen to will largely determine just how well we can continue to feed the planet."
Although saving seeds from one year to the next is a farming tradition as old as agriculture, due to Monsanto's aggressive legal action, "Farmers are being intimidated into not saving seed for fear that they will be doggedly pursued through the court system and potentially bankrupted," detailed Kastel.
"We must protect our world by protecting our most precious, sacred resource of seed sovereignty. People must have the right to the resources of the earth for our sustenance," said Rose Marie Burroughs of plaintiff California Cloverleaf Farms.
"The building blocks of life are sacred and should be in the public domain. The private profit motive corrupts pure science and increasingly precludes democratic participation," claimed Jill Davies, Director of plaintiff Sustainable Living Systems.
"Monsanto, and the biotechnology industry, have made great investments in our executive and legislative branches through campaign contributions and powerful lobbyists in Washington," Kastel points out. "We need the court system to offset this power and protect individual farmers from corporate tyranny."
Ravicher noted that "Monsanto is the same chemical company that previously brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB's and other toxins, which they said were safe, but we know are not. Now Monsanto says transgenic seed is safe, but evidence clearly shows it is not."
"Today is Independence Day for America. Monsanto's threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto's genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now." Declared Jim Gerritsen, a Maine family farmer, who is President of the lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. "Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace -- to decide what kind of food they will feed their families -- and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose."
More information about the lawsuit, including list of participating organizations.