US Farmers Sue Monsanto Over GMO Patents, Demand Right To Conventional Crops

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The Public Patent Foundation filed suit yesterday against Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seeds with farmers asking to be protected against the biotechnology giant’s potential lawsuits in case of accidental contamination from plants grown with its seeds.

On behalf of 22 agricultural organisations, 12 seed businesses and 26 farms and farmers, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is suing the biotech company in the federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald.

The organic plaintiffs had to pre-emptively protect themselves from potential patent infringement in case of accidental contamination of their crops by genetically modified organisms (GMOs), said PUBPAT.

“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 a law professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. PUBPAT is a non-profit legal services organisation based at Cardozo law school. Its stated mission is “to protect freedom in the patent system.”

“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,” he said in a press release.

According to the lawsuit, “coexistence between transgenic seed and organic seed is impossible because transgenic seed contaminates and eventually overcomes organic seeds.”

“History has already shown this, as soon after transgenic seed for canola was introduced, organic canola became virtually extinct as a result of transgenic seed contamination. Organic corn, soybean, cotton, sugar beet and alfalfa now face the same fate, as transgenic seed has been released for each of those crops,” it reads.

In a published commitment on farmers and patents, Monsanto states in Article 10 that, “We do not exercise our patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.”

The plaintiffs are largely organic farmers and organic seed businesses, but also include non-organic farmers who nevertheless wish to farm without transgenic seed, the lawsuit [pdf] says.

Through the action, plaintiffs are asking that farmers whose crops are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed should not be sued for patent infringement.

The plaintiffs also claim that “in addition to the economic harm caused by transgenic seed, it also has potentially severe negative health effects. For one, the design of Monsanto’s transgenic seed is purely so that it will be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. This means that as Monsanto’s transgenic seed becomes more widely used, then so too will glyphosate.”

They said many countries, such as the European Union members, required clear labelling of transgenic food or ingredients, but that “Monsanto has fought vigorously to defeat any proposal for labelling of transgenic food in the United States.”

Monsanto began applying for patents on glyphosate tolerance in the mid-1980s, say the plaintiffs, the first patents on the trait were granted in 1990 and are now expired. The plaintiffs claim that Monsanto continued to seek and receive patents on Roundup Ready technology for over two decades. They find that “Monsanto unjustly extended its period of patent exclusivity by duplicating its ownership of a field of invention already covered by other Monsanto patents. Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents are thus invalid for violating the prohibition against double patenting.”

According to the PUBPAT release, many of the plaintiffs made statements upon filing of the suit. For example, Jim Gerritsen, a family farmer in Maine who raises organic seed and president of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association based in Montrose, Colorado, said: “Today is Independence Day for America. Today we are seeking protection from the Court and putting Monsanto on notice. Monsanto’s threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto’s genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now. Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families.”

Ed Maltby, executive director of plaintiff Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) said, “It’s outrageous that we find ourselves in a situation where the financial burden of GE [genetically engineered] contamination will fall on family farmers who have not asked for or contributed to the growth of GE crops.”

David Murphy, founder and executive director of plaintiff Food Democracy Now said, “None of Monsanto’s original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers. 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.”

“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,” Murphy said.

Catherine Saez may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

Comments

  1. maria concilio says

    Add my name to the list, I want to sue Monsanto as well! Well done, take back agriculture, our food supply, our right to eat whole natural food. Food Sovereignty, not agricultural slavery! I stand behind this ALL THE WAY.

  2. JJ says

    I’d be there in the courtroom in a heartbeat!

    The biggest killer in America is without a doubt poor quality food sources. There is nothing better than good old fashioned agriculture and natural food.

    The fact that pesticides and GMO crops have lowered vitamin D levels in potatoes by over 50% in the last 50 years seems to be overlooked in place of profits. I’d love them to win this lawsuit.

  3. FarmBoy says

    I find it interesting that more businesses and companies are part of this law suit than are farmers. Misleading headline (and article for that matter).
    -Should 26 farmers be given special treatment vs the thousands that endorse and use the technology to produce more and better food???
    -What backs up the claim of “potentially severe health effects”? Biotechnology has been used by farmers since 1995 – with no evidence of ill health effects.
    -How about organic crops go through the same scrutiny by EPA, USDA, and FDA that biotech crops go through before they are allowed to be planted? Think they would pass the test???
    -Where is the proof that Monsanto has sued farmers for their accidental contamination? Yes, they have sued those who stole the technology – canola is a case in point.
    -If there is so much concern about contamination of organic crops, what would happen if Monsanto did not try to protect their patent rights and contain the technology to licensed growers only?
    -Shouldn’t farmers who grow conventional crops also be allowed to sue organic farmers if their crops get contaminated by lower yielding inferior organic crops?

  4. Alaina says

    Anyone want to bet FarmBoy is a plant? Not as in the green things, as in, someone who is paid to post misinformation under the appearance of Joe Average.

    -Monsanto is the one receiving special treatment, not those 26 farmers, which are representative of a greater whole
    – Use Google Scholar, there are a few studies out there that weren’t paid for by Monsanto that reflect some not so fantastic findings.
    – No reason to put them through such tests, as they are naturally occurring. Adding extra question marks won’t change the fact that GMOs are put through safety tests because they are not naturally occurring.
    – Don’t try to twist the Canola case to be what it isn’t. That was a clear case of contamination by Monsanto’s seeds and making it sound as though it was some great seed heist only benefits Monsanto.
    – The concern is over the fact that due to the voraciousness of Transgenic seeds. They say that in the article.
    – Finally, that’s just silly. And not an issue. Organic crops do not pose any threat to non-organic crops, nor are they inferior.

    Your entire post is like bullet points out of a Monsanto promo pamphlet.

  5. says

    Although Monsanto certainly has the same right as any patentee to engage in patent enforcement, its aggressiveness in this area has not served its interests particularly well, at least in regard to public relations. Of course, any patent holder is legally entitled to protect and enforce its IP rights. But this is not similar to, say, an Apple patent on the newest touchscreen technology — because there is a nexus (or, perhaps, a conflict) between Monsanto’s IP rights and the rights of humans and animals to eat food to survive. Monsanto needs to acknowledge that its role is unique, and that its IP (being critical to the sustainment of life) is unlike most other IP; its public image would improve if the company demonstrated more sensitivity to this fact.

  6. FarmBoy says

    You lose the bet Alaina. I am not a plant I was not paid to post anything. I am a private citizen that was born and raised on a farm, ate homegrown vegetables out of my Mother’s garden, worked on the farm, was educated in agronomy, and spent my entire life working in agriculture. My view of modern agriculture, conventional growers, organic growers, activist groups, biotechnology, food safety, and agricultural companies are based on my direct experiences. Not hearsay and blogs.
    The reason for my post is that information I perceive to be misleading deserves a response.

    No need for you to respond to this – your response to my earlier post speaks volumes about who you are and what you believe. Furthermore, you are most certainly entitled to your opinion. But then, so am I and I do listen to others and try hard to learn what the real truth is.

  7. LaughingMan says

    Isn’t it hilarious how they fight back with
    “No need for you to respond to this – your response to my earlier post speaks volumes about who you are and what you believe.” as if it were supposed to be a negative comment. Since the inception of GE foods American kids and adults have gotten fatter, cancer rates are slowly rising and the thing about super weeds is true. By the way, anyone who ever been outside of the city for a month can say they were “born and raised of a farm” although mother’s quarter acre plot doesn’t really compare to hundred or thousand acre private lands that grow crops for sale purposes.

    If your going to try to talk badly about someone be more direct, draws more weight and less laughs. Goes for Alaina too though.

  8. Ryan Thompson says

    I’m doing a business ethics paper on Monsanto. The fact that the American government allows this corporation to use its power to create a monopolistic market that goes completely against the free trading and free market rights, is disgraceful. Anyone in disagreement to this, FarmBoy, is sadly mistaken. If Monsanto showed up at your mothers small farm and then proceeded to take you and your family to court for saving her own seeds to grow next year, would you be playing the same tune? Doubt it.

  9. patrick says

    ok.
    I have to say im /w farmboy for the most part
    I think genetic modification of food is great idealy. It lets man to to do what would otherwise take a few life times of selective breeding and other older methods of genetic modification. Organic food is for people with the means to grow there own food or more money then sense.
    Natural by no means means safe and healthy.
    And that bush era WMD excuse dosent fly as evidance. ‘there are know unknowns, and unknown unknowwns’ as to say we don’t know what we dont know so its bad….. Those types of arguments apply to ‘Natural’ selection crops just as strong if not more, evolution of plants dosent consider humans

    That said, i think there should be a generation limit to there pattent for many reasons the main that come to mind.
    1. Being this type of case where there dna gets in naturaly.
    2. Being to allow evolution to keep going.
    3. To keep any company from owning all of any type of plant. Tho this points back to the first 2 reasons

    This was done on a cell phone in a fit of insomnia so please excuse typo’s and such

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Perhaps i’m over exaggerating, but what if patented genetic modified seeds would spread and a farmer would grow them? Of who would his crops be, even if he has never bought those seeds? I have searched for studies about what i’m thinking and these are some things that i have found http://www.ip-watch.org/2011/03/30/us-farmers-sue-monsanto-over-gmo-patents-demand-right-to-conventi… http://www.ip-watch.org/2009/03/20/agricultural-technology-could-feed-rising-population-but-who-will-own-crops/ and for your information, this is how it’s spreading: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/publi/gmo/full_en.pdf . [...]

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