The GMO debate continues to grow as the issue received national attention last week in a packed federal courtroom in Manhattan. Farmers filed a a class-action suit against the multinational seed and chemical corporation Monsanto, stating they are no longer able to keep transgenic contamination out of their fields.
With genetically-modified crops representing 90 percent of all soybeans, corn, canola and sugar beets raised in the United States, this is huge issue. If you’re not trying to avoid GM foods, you’re probably eating them every day. One of the most common sources is vegetable oil, of which virtually every restaurant in existence makes wide use of. Virtually all processed food contains GM ingredients. Unlike the European Union, Japan, China, India and Australia, the United States has no labeling requirements for GMOs.
Over the past decade, Monsanto’s aggressive marketing tactics, political lobbying and promises of increased yields has swept the farming world by storm. Farmers who refused to make the switch to Monsanto’s expensive seed and chemicals were seen as outcasts. As the wave of GM crops spread, many independent farmers who did not buy the hype but were found to have patented genes in their fields were ruined by expensive lawsuits brought on by Monsanto’s army of litigious lawyers.
From Food Democracy Now:
In many cases farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. Due to these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.
Historically, independent farmers have not had access to the funds or resources to stand up to the Goliath that is Monsanto. But, thanks to the organizational efforts of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, that is all changing. OSGATA has since been joined by 82 other seed businesses, trade organizations and thousands of family farmers, which together represent more than 300,000 people.
Jim Gerritsen, President of OSGATA gave us an interview on the Food Integrity Now podcast back in December to discuss their efforts.
In the OSGATA press release, Gerritsen said:
Our lawyer did a good job explaining the current injustice farmers face. We have a right to be secure on our farms and to be free from Monsanto’s GMO trespass. If we become contaminated by Monsanto, not only is the value of our organic seed crop extinguished but we could also be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement because their contamination results in our ‘possession’ of their GMO technology. We have farmers who have stopped growing organic corn, organic canola and organic soybeans because they can’t risk being sued by Monsanto. It’s not fair and it’s not right. Family farmers need justice and we deserve the protection of the court.
The purpose of the lawsuit is not to seek monetary compensation. Instead, the farmers are preemptively suing Monsanto and seeking court protection from patent infringement lawsuits. Earlier in the legal process Monsanto was asked to provide a binding legal agreement not to sue. Monsanto refused this request, making it clear they do not want to give up their option to sue innocent family farmers.
Dave Murphy, founder and Executive Director of co-plaintiff Food Democracy Now, stated:
For the past 12,000 years farmers have saved the best seeds each year to increase yields and improve traits for the food we eat. In 1996, when Monsanto sold its first patented genetically modified (GMO) seed to farmers, this radically changed the idea of how farmers planted and saved seed. Less than two decades later, Monsanto’s aggressive patent infringement lawsuits have created a climate of fear in rural America among farmers. It’s time for that to end. Farmers should not have to live in fear because they are growing our food.
Monsanto moved to dismiss the suit, claiming the plaintiffs lack standing because the company has taken no action against them. Judge Naomi R. Buchwald will rule on this motion by March 31st. Daniel Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation and lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said “We expect she will deny the motion and the case will then proceed forward. If she should happen to grant the motion, we will most likely appeal to the Court of Appeals who will review her decision without deference.”
Proponents of GMOs are quick to take the illusory high road and proclaim that coexistence is the solution. Last year, the Agriculture Department stated that organic crops would not necessarily lose their certification if they were found to contain some genetically-modified genes. That’s hardly coexistence, that’s divide and conquer.