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Vermont, Massachusetts Groups Join 'Sue Monsanto' Crowd

Vermont, Massachusetts Groups Join 'Sue Monsanto' Crowd
Latest lawsuit challenges Monsanto's patent infringement claims; Monsanto rebuts.

First, the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance joined a national coalition to file a northern California federal court suit seeking an injunction against the sale of Roundup Ready alfalfa. Then on Tuesday, the Northeast Organic Farming Association/ Vermont Chapter joined close to 60 other plaintiffs filing a different suit in federal court in Manhattan, N.Y. On Wednesday, NOFA/Massachusetts joined the Manhattan suit.

The Manhattan case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, challenges the validity of Monsanto's patents on a number of its genetically modified crops. It also asks the court to prevent Monsanto from continuing its unwarranted and damaging patent infringement lawsuits against farmers and others when their organic and non-GMO fields and crops become contaminated by Monsanto's GMO crops.  

The suit was filed by patent attorney Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, a not-for-profit legal services organization. It's affiliated with the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan.

"Monsanto's patents on [GMO] corn, canola, cotton, soybeans and, most recently, alfalfa, give it the power to intimidate Vermont's non-[GMO] and organic farmers and threaten their markets and livelihoods", alleges Dave Rogers, NOFA/Vermont policy advisor. "Their patents have enabled Monsanto to gain alarming economic and political power to control the development of American and global agricultural and food systems, as well as to influence the opinions and decisions of politicians, government regulators and research institutions.

"As a result, they have been able to thwart objective investigations of mounting evidence of serious negative environmental, agricultural, economic and public health effects of their GE crops."  Such negative impacts, the lawsuit argues, provide the legal basis under Patent Law for invalidation of Monsanto's patents. 

Ravicher adds: "It seems quite perverse that a farmer contaminated by GM seed 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."

The suit claims that once GMO seed is released into the environment, it contaminates and destroys organic seed for the same crop. Soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, for example, organic canola became virtually extinct as a result of contamination. Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now face the same fate, according to Ravicher.

Monsanto's rebuttal

"We've briefly read the allegations of the PUBPAT suit and press statement and find many of these allegations to be false, misleading and deceptive," says Ben Kampelman, public affairs spokesman for Monsanto. "Here are the facts:

"It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seed or traits are present in farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means.

"Biotechnology crops have provided a wealth of benefits to farmers and the environment. It is well established that farmers growing biotech crops realize many benefits including increased yields and lower production costs, and the use of these crops have resulted in an increase in the adoption of conservation tillage practices that reduce soil erosion.

"These benefits are the reason why farmers have overwhelmingly and willingly chosen to use these technologies year after year. These crops have been grown widely in the United States for the past 15 years, and have been planted on more than 2 billion acres by 15 million farmers throughout the world.

"Plaintiffs' allegations regarding patent validity are contrary to long established legal precedent which supports the validity of Monsanto's patents and others in the biotechnology field.

"The plaintiffs' approach is a publicity stunt designed to confuse the facts about American agriculture. These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies.

"This attack comes at a time when the world needs every agricultural tool available to meet the needs of a growing population, expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. While we respect the opinion of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don't believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach.

"Rather, we believe that farmers should have the ability to choose the best agricultural tools to farm their own land and serve their own end-market customers. We are confident that these multiple approaches can coexist side-by-side and sustainably meet the world's food needs over next 40 years.

"We stand behind the American farmer, remain committed to investing in new tools to help American agriculture meet the needs of our growing world, and are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves."

Plaintiffs in the Manhattan case include: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.; 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; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems; Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; FEDCO Seeds Inc.; Adaptive Seeds, LLC; Sow True Seed; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Mumm's Sprouting Seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC; Comstock, Ferre & Co., LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics; Cuatro Puertas; Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.; Alba Ranch; Wild Plum Farm; Gratitude Gardens; Richard Everett Farm, LLC; Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc; Genesis Farm; Chispas Farms LLC; Kirschenmann Family Farms Inc.; Midheaven Farms; Koskan Farms; California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm; Taylor Farms, Inc.; Jardin del Alma; Ron Gargasz Organic Farms; Abundant Acres; T & D Willey Farms; Quinella Ranch; Nature's Way Farm Ltd.; Levke and Peter Eggers Farm; Frey Vineyards, Ltd.; Bryce Stephens; Chuck Noble; LaRhea Pepper; Paul Romero; and, Donald Wright Patterson, Jr.


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