Organic Farmers See Monsanto in Court

By Mark Anderson

Almost a year to the day after filing their original complaint, family farmers and related organic farming associations, after rather difficult deliberations, decided to appeal a federal judge’s Feb. 24 ruling to dismiss a vitally important case against agri-giant Monsanto—the notorious monopolist and genetic manipulator of the seed supply. The appeal was filed March 28.

In Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al V. Monsanto, Judge Naomi Buchwald made her decision significantly earlier than the initially anticipated date of March 31 — a target date reported in the wake of a Jan. 31 hearing at the federal Southern District Court in lower Manhattan.

Blindsided but not defeated, the plaintiffs are pressing forward. “The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit will hear the farmers’ appeal, seeking to reinstate the case...

“The farmers are determined to move forward with their lawsuit challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered [Genetically-Modified, or GM] seed technologies, in order to continue their pursuit of Declaratory-Judgment-Act court protection from Monsanto’s claims of patent infringement should their crops become contaminated by Monsanto’s seed,” a March 28 OSGATA news release explained.

As Gerritsen has told this writer in several interviews, when GM pollen drifts via natural processes such as wind onto non-GM crops, Monsanto is actually trying to say that this constitutes a form of theft of patented materials, and that non-GM farmers must pay a “royalty” for using the GM technology — as if the organic farmers can possibly control the situation and are deliberately obtaining Monsanto’s GM materials. “Farmers have the right to protect themselves from being falsely accused of patent infringement by Monsanto before they are contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed,” commented Dan Ravicher, who’s executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a not-for-profit legal services organization based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, which represents the plaintiffs. “Judge Buchwald erred by denying plaintiffs that right, and they have now initiated the process of having her decision reversed.”

OSGATA’s original complaint was filed March 29, 2011. In July, Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff’s lawyers filed a rebuttal brief on Aug. 11, 2011. Then, Judge Buchwald, on the motion to dismiss, called for oral argument — which was the Jan. 31 Manhattan  hearing. And when Buchwald’s dismissal ruling came down Feb. 24, the plaintiffs were given 30 days in which to file their Notice of Appeal.

Gerritsen reiterated that the challenge here can be boiled down to whether grassroots entities, such as the family farms and organic farming associations among the 80-plus plaintiffs, even have something as basic as legal standing, in order to take Monsanto to court in the first place. The other fundamental goal, he stressed, is the need that family farmers have to avoid patent infringement “should Monsanto contaminate our farms. Farmers are under threat,” Gerritsen, a Maine-based organic seed farmer, stated in the news release.

“Our right to farm the way we choose, and to grow pure organic seed and healthy food on our farms for our families and for our customers is under assault. We are honor-bound to challenge an erroneous ruling which denies family farmers the protection the law says we deserve.”

Saying this is not a gambit to simply shake down the beast, Gerritsen concluded: “We’re not asking for one penny from Monsanto. Ultimately, our fight is for justice and is waged to defend the right of the people to have access to good and safe food.”

Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now, a progressive organization that has fought hard for transparency in Congress for crafting a fair farm bill, says California is looking at a ballot initiative to require GM labeling on foods derived from GM seeds, even as other states consider passing legislation for such requirements, including Washington, Vermont and Connecticut.

On a broader note, the Codex Alimentarius [Latin for “food code’] meeting in Ottawa, Canada, in mid-May will focus on whether to adopt such labeling on a global scale. “Codex,” as it is known for short, is seen by many as a potentially tyrannical international body that seeks to exercise the power to reformulate vitamins and various nutritional-health supplements, and to re-categorize them as drugs, making them more scarce, more expensive and less effective.

Yet natural products now on the market can achieve many if not all of these goals with less and less need for genetic tampering. So the whole process carried out by Monsanto is, really, a farce to begin with, as it tampers with and controls the very seeds of our sustenance. Keeping this lawsuit going could reveal a great deal about Monsanto that we need to know, including clarifying a fundamental thing: That Monsanto is to seeds what the Federal Reserve System is to money.

Mark Anderson reports government and community news in Texas and Michigan. Email

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2012

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