Farmers were denied the right to argue their case in court and gain 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.
by Heather Callaghan
Do you remember the 2011 lawsuit from the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association 80+ plaintiffs (farmers and small businesses) against Monsanto? They were fighting biotech giant Monsanto's ability to sue them for patent infringement when genetically modified seeds inadvertently appear in organic/conventional fields.
Yes, were talking about the wind or insects carrying GM seeds onto another farm, which to them is considered contamination. But instead of the ability for the farmers to sue for a ruined field, they can be cleaned out in court for not having permission to plant patented seeds. Monsanto workers have been found trespassing and gathering evidence on farmers' properties. The lawsuit had sought protection from this overreach, as Monsanto has filed 140 of these suits and settled 700 without suing.
Organic farmer and President of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), Jim Gerritsen, had said:
Our farmers want nothing to do with Monsanto. We are not customers of Monsanto. We don't want their seed. We don't want their gene-spliced technology. We don't want their trespass onto our farms. We don't want their contamination of our crops. We don't want to have to defend ourselves from aggressive assertions of patent infringement because Monsanto refuses to keep their pollution on their side of the fence. We want justice.
We don’t think it’s fair that Monsanto can trespass onto our farm, contaminate and ruin our crops and then sue us for infringing on their patent rights.
A June 2013 ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC conceded to the plaintiffs' argument that contamination from Monsanto seeds would occur, but ultimately dismissed them: “because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not ‘take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower's land).” (source)
As Rady Ananda points out, a “trace amount” in this ruling, only means less than one percent contamination of a crop! Those are not the percentages of contamination in the real world – i.e. Monsanto can sue, sue, sue. Furthermore, less than one percent contamination still leaves the integrity of an organic crop ruined. It does not settle the issue of Monsanto trespassing on private land to take samples for infringement cases.
After the federal court threw out the 2011 lawsuit based on Monsanto's assurances, OSGATA plaintiffs petitioned the Supreme Court:
However, Petitioners risk being contaminated in amounts much greater than 1%, and thus remain compelled to forgo full use of their land and adopt genetic testing of their seed supplies in order to avoid being accused of patent infringement by Respondents.
When the plaintiffs asked Monsanto to pledge not to sue, the company responded: “A blanket covenant not to sue any present or future member of petitioners' organizations would enable virtually anyone to commit intentional infringement.”
The Supreme Court would not hear the case* on Monday, thereby sealing the previous decisions in the district and federal courts. Monsanto can sue with full immunity if one percent or more of a farmer's crop contains their patented seeds.
Kyle McClain, Monsanto's chief litigation counsel told Reuters:
Monsanto never has and has committed it never will sue if our patented seed or traits are found in a farmer's field as a result of inadvertent means.
The lower courts agreed there was no controversy between the parties, and the Supreme Court's decision not to review the case brings closure on this matter.