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Olmstead writes: "Gerritsen, 56, who with his wife, Megan, and their family has operated Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater since 1976, is on a mission that has put him in the national - and international - spotlight. As president of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the trade organization for the organic seed industry, he is the lead plaintiff in a suit to protect growers and consumers of organic foods. The defendant is Monsanto Corp., world leader in production of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, intended to increase yields of herbicide-resistant crops - crops that can withstand sprays such as Roundup that kill the weeds around them."

Jim Gerritsen addresses the 'Farmers' March' to Zuccotti Park organized by the Food Justice Committee of Occupy Wall Street, 12/04/11. (photo: Jim Gerritsen/Bangor Daily News)
Jim Gerritsen addresses the 'Farmers' March' to Zuccotti Park organized by the Food Justice Committee of Occupy Wall Street, 12/04/11. (photo: Jim Gerritsen/Bangor Daily News)



Maine Organic Farmer Leads Fight Against Monsanto

By Kathryn Olmstead, Bangor Daily News

10 December 11

 

have wanted to catch up with Bridgewater organic farmer Jim Gerritsen ever since he was named in October to the 2011 list of 25 visionaries who are changing the world by the national magazine Utne Reader. When I finally succeeded last weekend, he was on his way to New York City to give a speech and participate in the Dec. 4 rally and "Farmers' March" to Zuccotti Park organized by the Food Justice Committee of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Gerritsen, 56, who with his wife, Megan, and their family has operated Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater since 1976, is on a mission that has put him in the national - and international - spotlight. As president of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the trade organization for the organic seed industry, he is the lead plaintiff in a suit to protect growers and consumers of organic foods.

The defendant is Monsanto Corp., world leader in production of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, intended to increase yields of herbicide-resistant crops - crops that can withstand sprays such as Roundup that kill the weeds around them. Airborne or insect-borne pollen from these transgenic, or gene-spliced, crops can do irrevocable damage to organic seed crops. But loss of crops is only the beginning.

"Farmers lose not only the value of the organic crop, but we are also open to patent infringement lawsuits," Gerritsen said "Monsanto can contend that the (organic) farm is in possession of a (patented) Monsanto product."

To date, Monsanto has sued 90 American farmers for patent infringement, receiving an estimated $15 million for judgments in its favor, according to the Center for Food Safety. Many cases have been settled out of court with farmers bound to confidentiality. Monsanto dominates the sale of seed stocks worldwide, especially corn, soybeans and cotton, and sends private investigators to farms suspected of replanting saved seed.

Hence, the legal action, OSGATA v. Monsanto, has captured the attention of international media, but mostly the alternative press in the United States - until Monday, that is, when Gerritsen's role in Sunday's Farmers' March was reported in the New York Times under the headline: "A Maine Farmer Speaks to Wall Street."

Gerritsen heads OSGATA, based in Montrose, Colo., which is leading 83 plaintiffs in the case against Monsanto. The individual farmers, seed companies and agricultural organizations that have signed onto the case represent about 300,000 members nationwide.

"Monsanto is trying to achieve seed control based on aggressive assertion of patent infringement," Gerritsen said, explaining that the farmers' lawsuit has two goals: to protect organic farmers against patent infringement lawsuits and to challenge the validity of patents issued to Monsanto.

"Organic farming is predicated on the concept of crops free of GMO content," he said, noting the irony of a suit against a farmer by the company that has destroyed that farmer's crop.

"If organic seed is contaminated, there is no way to grow nongenetically modified crops," he said. "The outcome will be either seed controlled directly by Monsanto or contaminated by Monsanto."

If the 83 plaintiffs led by OSGATA are successful, Monsanto would be forced by the court not to sue farmers whose crops are contaminated by the corporation's product. When lawyers for the farm groups - working on a pro bono basis - requested such a guarantee, Monsanto refused.

"They are reserving the option to go after those farmers," Gerritsen said, adding that Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss the case last July. "We need to get the court to protect farmers from invasion, trespassing and patent infringement. We are anxious to get into court."

If the plaintiffs achieve their second goal, the court will agree that the U.S. Patent Office erred in granting Monsanto patents for crops that do not fulfill the "social utility" standard, which requires that a new invention will result in some "social good."

Gerritsen faults not only the U.S. Patent Office, but also the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which accepted Monsanto's claim that GMO products are "substantially equivalent" to traditional seed and need not be labeled. Thus, consumers can't know what foods have been grown using GMO technology.

"They can't have it both ways," he said, questioning the awards of patents for products because they are new, which then evade labeling because they are not new.

"President Obama promised mandatory labeling of genetically modified products and we must hold him to that," Gerritsen said, acknowledging a possible challenge: The current deputy commissioner of the FDA, which regulates labeling, Michael R. Taylor, is a former vice president of Monsanto.

Gerritsen said the plaintiffs hope the case will go to trial by late winter or early spring. At this point, they are still awaiting a ruling on the motion to dismiss.

"Once we win the case, one can imagine Monsanto will want to appeal," he said, predicting a process that could take three to five years and end up in the Supreme Court, where they might face another challenge: Justice Clarence Thomas served as an attorney for Monsanto from 1976-1979 and has failed to recuse himself from other cases involving the corporation.

Meanwhile, Gerritsen is encouraged by the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement in putting a spotlight on inequity. "It is the new conscience of America," he said. That's why he made his first trip to New York City to let the Occupy protesters know that farmers are behind them.

"I have not spoken to one farmer who doesn't understand the message of Occupy Wall Street," he told New York Times reporter Julia Moskin. "We have fifth- and sixth-generation farmers up where I live being pushed out of business, when all they want to do is grow good food. And if it goes on like this, all we're going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That's not a healthy food system."

 

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+70 # Tippitc 2011-12-10 18:39
GMO anything is WRONG - we are messing with things we shouldn't be messing with!! If these crops are so benign then why the fight to not label them - what is Monsanto afraid of? Once this genie is out of the bottle, it can't be put back!!

"Just because we could, we never stopped to ask if we should."
 
 
+73 # Michaele 2011-12-10 18:44
You have my support, Jim Gerritsen and all organic farmers! Thank you for all you do. Down with Monsanto!!!
 
 
+54 # BLBreck 2011-12-11 00:01
You have my support, Jim Gerritsen and all organic farmers and small family farms! I have spent some of my happiest hours helping out at friends' small farms. I know that the animals and the land are treated with respect 9if not reverence) and that the food that came from them was real food.

Down with Monsanto!!! Before they devastate the world's food supply completely!
 
 
+29 # Ken Hall 2011-12-11 00:23
When you let corporations dominate the regulatory functions of gov't, gov't becomes a service arm of those corporations. This deregulation occurred during the RR administration. Corporations, in laws written by their lobbyists, were allowed to patent the DNA of existing species and profit from those patents. Bean farmers in the southwest who had grown the same crop for years were suddenly sued for patent violations. Shame, shame! And thank you, conservatives, for enabling the takeover of the US gov't by corporations.
 
 
+20 # rsnfan 2011-12-11 00:25
I am behind you all the way Mr. Gerritsen.
Go get Monsanto!!!!!
 
 
+22 # wilkinsb 2011-12-11 00:55
In the records of the Supreme court of Canada is a case Schmeiser V Monsanto,
Thew decision awarded Schneiser $1 damages but found that all of the GMO canola in Schmeiser's crops was caused by the negligence of Monsanto in not keeping their plants from Cross contaminating Schmeiser's crops. This was partly because Monsanto was the patent holder on the plants and the contracts stated that any violation of Monsantos contract by the grower allowed Monsanto to destroy the crops
 
 
+22 # adickinson 2011-12-11 01:56
We will have to check out their website and send a small contribution for the fight against Monsanto. What a bully Monsanto is! Wish we could give more. Maybe others can chip in too (for healthy food and freedom to sew seeds for the future.)
 
 
+22 # wsh 2011-12-11 07:23
When I saw "Food, Inc.", I wondered how MonDiablo could sue farmers when neighboring GMO crops INFECTED (my word) the farmers' conventional crop -- and win!

I wondered why the farmers didn't counter-sue (I know, lack of money)...and now they have.

I DON'T wonder whether Clarence Thomas will recuse himself, nor how he'll vote if this comes before the SCOTUS.
 
 
+13 # jlg 2011-12-11 17:44
As an expert in river basin management and river restoration with over 40 years' global experience, I regard GM crops as a threat on a par with climate change and population increase. Monsanto's rampage needs to be severely curtailed. Maybe there will be a drop in the numbers of suicides among India's small farmers that have bought into GM corps.
 
 
+3 # joyster 2011-12-12 01:23
Wow - what a Divid vs. Goliath story. I've found their website (http://www.osgata.org/) so I can contribute to and support these efforts by Jim Gerritsen and the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. Hope there are other David's out there too - every $20 bill helps...
 
 
+3 # RMDC 2011-12-12 05:08
This is a really important challenge for the people of the world. Monsanto and a few other corporations are driving toward control of the world's food supply. This is insane. GMO plants are an "invasive species." They pollinate neighboring natural plants and spread their DNA like a virus. This is intentional on Monsanto's part. It ought to be criminal. The fact that is it not and that the courts side with Monsanto shows just how bad our governments are.
 
 
0 # sheila Cee 2011-12-12 22:08
The farmers are setting their goals much too short. They should be suing Monsanto for damages for ruining their farms AND to protect themselves from suits by Monsanto for patent infringement.

That Monsanto should be winning suits against these farmers is ludicrous. Monsanto should be suing God, not the farmers. After all, it was an act of God that allowed the wind to pollinate these farmers crops. The farmers had nothing to do with it.

These courts that sided with Monsanto have their heads you know where. So does the FDA. Now we are finding that cattle fed on GMO corn are having health problems. So what does that portend for humans who soon, if Monsanto, the courts and the FDA have their way is permitted to take control world wide food supply.
 

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