Organic Community Fights Back, Sues Biotech Bully

When Monsanto's seeds contaminate your field, <em>they</em> can actually sue <em>you</em>. Organic farmers are standing up against that backwards logic.

March 30, 2011

Organic farmers are tired of being blamed when their fields are contaminated by gene-altered crops.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A large group of organic farmers, small businesses, and seed companies, along with advocacy groups from around the world have filed a lawsuit against the chemical company Monsanto, a multinational corporation that has a reputation of bullying and suing farmers whose fields have been contaminated with the company's patented genetically engineered, also known as GMO, seeds. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, comes just weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved genetically engineered alfalfa and genetically engineered sugar beets, approvals that threaten to contaminate organic fields, thus limiting consumer choice in the marketplace.

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"This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto's transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property," says Dan Ravicher, executive director of Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT). "It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer whose crops were contaminated by transgenic seeds could be accused of patent infringement. But Monsanto has made such accusations before, and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients," he says.

THE DETAILS: Most of the corn, canola, soy, and cotton grown in this country is genetically engineered to withstand heavy sprayings of the toxic weedkiller Roundup. Monsanto sells both the GMO seeds and the Roundup that the seeds are designed to resist. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, stresses that GMO crops offer no benefit to the consumer, but only benefit the chemical companies selling the GMO/pesticide package. That could explain why Monsanto fights so hard against GMO labeling—people don't want to eat genetically engineered ingredients.

This lawsuit, however, seeks to protect farmers who are already going out of their way to avoid GMO seeds, but whose fields could be contaminated by Monsanto's genetically manipulated crop pollen. PUBPAT is asking the court to declare that if contamination does occur, Monsanto can't turn around and sue the farmer.

"Monsanto's threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto's genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now," Jim Gerritsen, a family farmer in Maine who raises organic seed, who is president of the case's lead plaintiff, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, said in a statement. "Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace—to decide what kind of food they will feed their families."

He added: "Today is Independence Day for America. Today we are seeking protection from the court and putting Monsanto on notice…beginning today, America asserts her right to justice and pure food."


WHAT IT MEANS: Monsanto seems to want it both ways, and so far, it's been getting it. However, this lawsuit could be the first step in leveling the playing field. "Monsanto wants to claim their corn is the same as other corn," says Mark Smallwood, executive director of the Rodale Institute, an organic research farm in Pennsylvania. In fact that's the basis of their argument against labeling GMO ingredients on packaged food. "But if it's the same, why do they get a patent? If they have a patent on it, it's different. They don't get both," says Smallwood. "It's not right. It's about time organic farmers are not only fighting back, but also taking a stand."

While organic farmers fight for freedom in the fields, consumers are fighting for the right to know what's in their food. Last weekend, the Millions Against Monsanto campaign run by the nonprofit Organic Consumers Association organized 23 rallies across the country. Number one on their agenda? Demanding that GMO foods be labeled as such. Surveys consistently show that more than 90 percent of the American population believes GMOs should be labeled so consumers have a choice of eating them or avoiding them.

"Consumers indicate, overwhelmingly, that they prefer foods made without genetically modified organisms. Organic farms, by regulation, may not use GMOs, while other farmers forgo using them for other reasons," explains Carol Goland, PhD, executive director of plaintiff Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association. "Yet, the truth is that we are rapidly approaching the tipping point when we will be unable to avoid GMOs in our fields and on our plates. That is the inevitable consequence of releasing genetically engineered materials into the environment."

Here's how to help beat back the GMO industry that's tainting our food supply.

• Fight brainwashing with scientific facts. We're constantly being told that we need GMOs to feed the world, but research by the United Nations and the Rodale Institute, among others, shows that organic yields are on par with GMO crops when weather conditions are normal, with organic providing a more robust harvest in years of drought.

The truth is, with Roundup-resistant crops now failing due to the development of superweeds that resist the chemcials, agrichemcial companies like Monsanto and Dow Agrisciences are now testing new GMOs resistant to even more toxic, volatile pesticides—like dicamba and 2,4-D, a component of Agent Orange. Drift from those pesticides threatens to wipe out backyard garden favorites like peppers and tomatoes.

• Form a local right-to-know chapter. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions in the last year, telling the USDA and the Obama Administration that we don't want GMOs. Despite the fact the Americans don't want these foods in the food chain, approvals for new GMO crops are still breezing through the USDA regulatory process. To make a bolder statement, the Millions Against Monsanto movement is aiming to organize local chapters all over the country between now and October. Interested? Look into forming your own Millions Against Monsanto Truth in Labeling chapter in your neighborhood.