Biotechnology Giant Fails to Provide Binding Legal Protection; Farmers Threatened by Contamination from Genetically Modified Organisms
NEW YORK: New threats by Monsanto have led to the filing of an amended complaint by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) in its suit on behalf of family farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed.
"Our clients don't want a fight with Monsanto, they merely want to be protected from the threat that they will be contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed and then accused of patent infringement," said PUBPAT Executive Director Daniel B. Ravicher. "We asked Monsanto to give our clients reassurances they wouldn't do such a thing, and in response Monsanto chose to instead reiterate the same implicit threat to organic agriculture that it has made in the past."
Over the years Monsanto has sued farmers alleging they have stolen the corporation's intellectual property by saving their proprietary seed rather than purchasing new seed each year that would include a "technology fee." Because pollen, and genetics, can be spread through the wind, or by insects, farmers are vulnerable to having their crops contaminated and then subsequently being sued by Monsanto.
Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying that they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer "trace" amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto's attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding.
The biotechnology giant responded by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale. Waxman completely rejected PUBPAT's simple request and instead confirmed that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed. (Copies of both the letter written by PUBPAT to Monsanto and the response letter by Waxman can be found at: http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf).
"Monsanto has run roughshod over organic and conventional farmers who have chosen to be sensitive to consumers' concerns, and marketplace demand, by shunning genetic engineering in their seed purchases and the crops they produce," said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a co-plaintiff in the suit with over 4,000 members, most of whom are organic farmers. "Because of Monsanto's massive investments in federal political campaigns, and in lobbying, it's important that an independent judiciary protects citizen-farmers from intimidation."
"Monsanto's letter was a completely empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion that shows they are only interested in trying to spin propaganda and do not want to take serious steps to resolve the problem they have created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture," said one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit, Don Patterson of Virginia.
"The seriousness of the issues being engaged in this case requires a constructive and socially-acceptable response from the defendant in the public interest," added Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, the lead plaintiff in the suit. "In the absence of that, we reassert the essential importance of the arguments stated in March and reinforced now by the additional evidence of Monsanto's intransigence. Monsanto's utter failure to act reasonably to address our concerns has only reaffirmed the need for our lawsuit."
In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto's most recent actions, PUBPAT announced that a new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, and farms or individual farmers have joined the original plaintiffs in the suit bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 83, comprising 36 organizations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers.
Plaintiff Don Patterson added, "With the Monsanto letter, signed by Waxman, the company rolled out their biggest legal cannon but they fired off only fluffy wadding and smoke. The letter shows Monsanto wanting to protect their freedom to threaten farmers with patent infringement suits. Both the threats and the suits seem to be an important part of their marketing strategy and business model they do not want to give up, despite their empty propaganda to the contrary."
The plaintiffs added to the suit include 14 organizations, Weston A. Price Foundation, Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Western Organic Dairy Producers Association, Manitoba Organic Alliance, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (Wisconsin), Midwest Organic Dairy Producers Association, Florida Organic Growers, Peace River Organic Producers Association (Alberta and British Columbia) and Union Paysanne (Quebec); two seed companies, Seed We Need (Montana) and Wild Garden Seed (Oregon); and seven farms or individual farmers, Common Good Farm, LLC (Nebraska), American Buffalo Company (Nebraska), Full Moon Farm, Inc. (Vermont), Radiance Dairy (Iowa), Brian L. Wickert (Wisconsin), Bruce Drinkman (Wisconsin), and Murray Bast (Ontario).
These plaintiffs join the 60 plaintiffs from the original filing of the lawsuit in March, which included 22 organizations, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc. (OCIA); OCIA Research and Education, Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network (California); Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems (Montana); Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; 12 seed companies, FEDCO Seeds Inc. (Maine); Adaptive Seeds, LLC (Oregon); Sow True Seed (North Carolina); Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Virginia); Mumm's Sprouting Seeds (Saskatchewan); Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC (Missouri); Comstock, Ferre & Co. (Connecticut), LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics (Virginia); Cuatro Puertas (New Mexico); Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd. (Manitoba); and, 26 farms and farmers, Alba Ranch (Kansas); Wild Plum Farm (Montana); Gratitude Gardens (Washington); Richard Everett Farm, LLC (Nebraska); Philadelphia Community Farm , Inc. (Wisconsin); Genesis Farm (New Jersey); Chispas Farms, LLC (New Mexico); Kirschenmann Family Farms, Inc. (North Dakota); Midheaven Farms (Minnesota); Koskan Farms (South Dakota); California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm (North Dakota); Taylor Farms, Inc. (Utah); Jardin del Alma (New Mexico); Ron Gargasz Organic Farms (Pennsylvania); Abundant Acres (Missouri); T & D Willey Farms (California); Quinella Ranch (Saskatchewan); Nature's Way Farm, Ltd. (Alberta); Levke and Peter Eggers Farm (Alberta); Frey Vineyards, Ltd. (California); Bryce Stephens (Kansas); Chuck Noble (South Dakota); LaRhea Pepper (Texas); Paul Romero (New Mexico); and Donald Wright Patterson, Jr. (Virginia).