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I'll take the non-GMO, please. Photo: J.C. Burns via Flickr.com.
I'll take the non-GMO, please. Photo: J.C. Burns via Flickr.com.
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Supreme Court denies US farmers protection against Monsanto

Food Democracy Now

15th January 2014

The US Supreme Court has denied organic and GMO-free farmers their day in Court against Monsanto - leaving them unable to challenge the company's patents or seek redress for GMO seed contamination.

America's farmers have been denied justice, while Monsanto's reign of intimidation is allowed to continue in rural America.

The US Supreme Court has issued a decision in the landmark federal lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto.

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.

The decision also dashes the hopes of family farmers who sought the opportunity to prove in court that Monsanto's genetically engineered seed patents are invalid.

Monsanto cannot sue if crop contamination is less than 1%

Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto, said:

"While the Supreme Court's decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto's patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits."

"Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than one percent.

"For farmers contaminated by more than one percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto's patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers."

Farmers had sought Court protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act that should they become the innocent victims of contamination by Monsanto's patented gene-splice technology they could not perversely be sued for patent infringement.

Safeguards 'insufficient'

"The Supreme Court failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in", said Maine organic seed farmer Jim Gerritsen, President of lead plaintiff OSGATA.

"The Court of Appeals agreed our case had merit. However, the safeguards they ordered are insufficient to protect our farms and our families.

"This high court which gave corporations the ability to patent life forms in 1980, and under Citizens United in 2010 gave corporations the power to buy their way to election victories, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto."

1 million citizens and 25% of organic farmers ...

The historic lawsuit was filed in 2011 in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The large plaintiff group numbers 83 individual American and Canadian family farmers, independent seed companies and agricultural organizations whose combined memberships total over 1 million citizens, including many non-GMO farmers and over 25% of North America's certified organic farmers.

"The Appellate Court decision could leave Canadian farmers out in the cold because their protection may not extend to Canada at all", said Saskatchewan organic grain farmer Arnold Taylor, a member of plaintiff member Canadian Organic Growers (COG).

"Like many Canadian farmers, we sell crop into the United States and can therefore be liable to claims of patent infringement by Monsanto."

In a complicated ruling issued in June 2013 by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington DC, American farmers were handed a partial victory when the three justices agreed with the farmers' assertion that contamination by Monsanto was inevitable.

The justices ordered Monsanto not to sue American farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of patented material, which the Court defined as 1%.

Meanwhile in Canada

In a related situation, Canadian soybean farmer Stephen Webster of Ontario experienced just how abusively Monsanto treats innocent contamination victims.

Through no fault of his own Webster, who farms with his elderly father, had his 2012 identify-preserved (IP) non-GMO soybean crop contaminated by Monsanto's patented genetically engineered seed. Their soybeans were ruined for export to specialty markets in Japan.

"First Monsanto claimed we had too many bees and that we were at fault for the contaminated crop", said Webster. "Then they threatened to run up $100,000 in legal bills that we would have to pay."

Tragically, Webster's story is the norm in farm country, with Monsanto using its extreme economic power to silence family farmers even before they can legally defend themselves.

Unwanted GMO seed has cost farmers $2 billion

Notably, none of the plaintiffs are customers of Monsanto. None have signed licensing agreements with Monsanto. The plaintiffs do not want Monsanto's seed and they do not want Monsanto's gene-spliced technology and have sought legal protection from significant economic harm to their businesses and way of life.

"We have a fourth generation farm", said organic dairy farmer and plaintiff Rose Marie Burroughs of California Cloverleaf Farms.

"Monsanto cannot be trusted. Their refusal to provide a binding legal covenant not to sue our fellow farmers would make anyone wonder, what are their real motives? GMO contamination levels can easily rise above 1% and then we would have zero protection from a costly and burdensome lawsuit."

Significant contamination events, including Starlink corn and LibertyLink rice, have already cost farmers and the food companies nearly $2 billion.

In the past year alone, the discovery of Monsanto's illegal GMO wheat in an Oregon farmer's field and GMO alfalfa in Washington state sent foreign markets, where GMOs are not wanted, reeling. In both instances farmers' economic livelihoods were put at risk as buyers in foreign markets refused to buy the GMO contaminated crops.

Justice denied

Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots advocacy group based in Iowa and a plaintiff in the case, said:

"If Monsanto can patent seeds for financial gain, they should be forced to pay for contaminating a farmer's field, not be allowed to sue them. Once again, America's farmers have been denied justice, while Monsanto's reign of intimidation is allowed to continue in rural America."

"Monsanto has effectively gotten away with stealing the world's seed heritage and abusing farmers for the flawed nature of their patented seed technology. This is an outrage of historic proportions and will not stand."

Case background: OSGATA vs Monsanto

Family farmers and farm organizations originally filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in March 2011 in an effort to invalidate Monsanto's patents and protect organic and non-GMO family farmers from unwanted genetic contamination of their crops and from Monsanto's aggressive patent infringement lawsuits.

Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss the case, which was heard in Federal District Court in New York City on January 31st, 2012. In February 2012, Federal Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the case, ruling that the farmers lacked legal standing regarding the concerns over genetic contamination and resulting economic harm.

In March 2012, Plaintiffs appealed the District Court's decision to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which scheduled oral argument in the case to be heard on January 10, 2013.

In June 2013 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington DC gave farmers a patial victory when it ruled that contamination by Monsanto was inevitable, and ordered Monsanto not to sue farmers whose fields were contaminated with under 1% of patented material.

The Supreme Court decision not to hear the farmers' Appeal against the June 2013 ruling was issued on Monday 13th January 2014.

Why this case matters so much

OSGATA vs Monsanto is a landmark legal case attempting to protect family farmers from Monsanto's aggressive patent infringement lawsuits and unwanted genetic contamination that results when Monsanto's patented, GMO pollen blowing across farmer's fences and contaminates their crops against their wishes.

In an effort to enforce their legal patents on their genetically engineered genes, Monsanto regularly sends their seed police out in rural America to trespass on farmer's fields and steal their plants to take them back to their labs for testing.

 



This article was originally published by Food Democracy Now.

 

 

 

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