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Silver writes: "Monsanto has established a conveniently intimidating reputation as a ruthless prosecutor of non-GMO farmers whose fields have been contaminated by their neighbors' genetically engineered corn - either through cross-pollination or accidental seed mixing during harvest."

Farmers who do not use Monsanto seeds are faced with lawsuits when neighboring farms seeds contaminate their fields. (photo: St. Louis Post)
Farmers who do not use Monsanto seeds are faced with lawsuits when neighboring farms seeds contaminate their fields. (photo: St. Louis Post)


Monsanto vs. The People

By Charlotte Silver, Al Jazeera English

16 January 13

 

Many farmers have decided to forego growing corn and soybeans due to the "inevitable contamination that will result".

ast week Monsanto announced staggering profits from 2012 to celebratory shareholders while American farmers filed into Washington, DC to challenge the Biotech giant's right to sue farmers whose fields have become contaminated with Monsanto's seeds. On January 10 oral arguments began before the U.S. Court of Appeals to decide whether to reverse the cases' dismissal last February.

Monsanto's earnings nearly doubled analysts' projections and its total revenue reached $2.94bn at the end of 2012. The increased price of Roundup herbicide, continued market domination in the United States and, perhaps most significant, expanded markets in Latin America are all contributing factors to Monsanto's booming business.

Exploiting their patent on transgenic corn, soybean and cotton, Monsanto asserts an insidious control of those agricultural industries in the US, effectively squeezing out conventional farmers (those using non-transgenic seeds) and eliminating their capacity to viably participate and compete on the market. (Until the end of 2012, Monsanto was under investigation by the Department of Justice for violating anti-trust laws by practicing anticompetitive activities towards other biotech companies, but that investigation was quietly closed before the year's end.)

The seemingly modest objective of the current lawsuit, OSGATA et al v Monsanto, originally filed in March 2011, is to acquire legal protection for organic and conventional farmers from Monsanto's aggressive prosecution of inadvertent patent infringements. But the implications of the suit are momentous. If the DC Court of Appeal reverses the dismissal, a process of discovery will be instigated that could unveil a reservoir of information, access to which Monsanto has withheld from public knowledge - both by not disclosing it and preventing independent research.

Monsanto's Abuse of Patents

Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against family farmers and settled 700 cases out of court. Furthermore, food groups estimate that Monsanto investigates hundreds of farmers each year as potential culprits of patent infringement.

Victims of Monsanto's predatory lawsuits include farmers who used Monsanto seed but violated the licensing agreement, as well as those farmers who never had any intention of growing GE plants. OSGATA et al v Monsanto deals with the latter group and represents 31 farms and farmers, 13 seed-selling businesses, and 31 agricultural organisations that represent more than 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms or farmers.

Plaintiffs requested a declaratory judgment that would ensure Monsanto was not entitled to sue the plaintiffs for patent infringement.

Jim Gerritson, president of OSGATA (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association) and lead plaintiff in the case, explained to me that organic and non-GMO farmers are a "Classic example of why Congress passed the Declaratory Judgment Act: if you have a group that fears being bullied by a large company, they can petition for protection from claims of patent infringement."

But the federal courts have always protected Monsanto's rights to profit via a patenting system that increasingly impinges on individual and market freedom, allowing Monsanto to abuse its patent rights. In a natural alliance, OSGATA is represented by attorney Dan Ravicher and Public Patent Foundation, an organisation dedicated to creating a just patent system that balances individual freedom and the ethical issuing of patents.

Monsanto has established a conveniently intimidating reputation as a ruthless prosecutor of non-GMO farmers whose fields have been contaminated by their neighbours' genetically engineered corn - either through cross-pollination or accidental seed mixing during harvest.

With these terrifying exemplars in mind, farmers have taken on the burden of preventing contamination by setting up buffer zones, conducting genetic testing and in some cases, giving up on planting the crop altogether.

Monopolising Effect

By detailing how many conventional farmers have given up trying to grow certain crops, OSGATA's motion to appeal emphasises the monopolisation that has resulted from Monsanto's aggressive pursuit of patent infringement cases. It is estimated that 88 percent of corn and 93 percent of soybeans are genetically modified, most of them by Monsanto. Bryce Stephens, an organic farmer in the northwest of Kansas, is one of those farmers who have decided to forego growing corn and soybeans due to the inevitable contamination that will result.

"My fear of contamination by transgenic corn and soybeans and the resulting risk of being accused of patent infringement prevent me from growing corn and soybeans on my farm. There is no other reason why I do not grow those crops, and I would very much like to do so."

As Gerritson described to me, "Farmers have suffered economic loss because they've abandoned growing corn and soybeans because they are certain they will be contaminated. They cannot put their farms and families at risk of being sued for patent infringement."

Monsanto knows that consumers won't voluntarily buy their products - a lesson they learned in Europe when GE foods there were required to be labelled as such. In America, the company and its allies have spent millions to defeat local labelling initiatives, most recently in California. But if the company successfully crowds out conventional farmers, Americans won't have a choice - with or without a label.

In spite of the creation of this dangerous monopoly, in February 2012, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald granted Monsanto's request and dismissed the initial suit, casting the farmers' concerns as "overstated"; urging the plaintiffs to trust Monsanto's (non-legally binding) promises to not exercise their patent rights over inadvertent acquisition of traces of GE plants; and insisting that farmers have created "a controversy where none exists".

If the farmers' case is allowed to go forward, the very least that will happen is of supreme importance: that is, through the process of discovery the public will gain access to a trove of information that Monsanto has successfully stashed away. Ravicher believes that it can then be established that the products Monsanto peddles are not healthy and, hence, are not for the good of society. Quoting a 150-year-old case, Ravicher reminds us that "an invention to poison the people is not patentable".

It's clear that the movement to defeat Monsanto is growing. Win or lose this round, the people are not giving up on taking down this monster.


 

Comments   

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+7 # cafetomo 2013-01-16 09:22
Join, or die. Power concedes nothing. Are we a cooperative or competitive society? Empathetic, or exploitative as a species? The answer increasingly comes to not only define our culture, but decide our existence. This is only one multinational corporation, hiding their criminal behaviors among those of many. We are many, but will remain helpless until we are one.
 
 
+4 # ER444 2013-01-16 13:32
All power to the people!
 
 
+7 # giraffee2012 2013-01-16 09:33
We should and can take the example from Europe - LABEL GMO products. But we need $$ to put this information out in "ads" on TV (the lala land of the many in USA)
 
 
+7 # Archie1954 2013-01-16 09:45
Can't the farmers claim nuisance? If a company causes economic harm through cross pollination is there no compensation allowed? Can the farmers not prove nuisance causing harm?
 
 
+7 # Street Level 2013-01-16 13:05
Percy Schmeiser in Saskatchewan sued for "libel trespass and contamination", he lost of course and it wouldn't be any different in our corporate courts.
Last I heard he's been sending them the "clean up" bill for tearing out the tainted canola and refused to sign any stipulations. Monsanto's supposedly been paying it, so maybe our domestic growers have an angle.
Really, what's concerning, along with GMO's are the nano's that the USDA has allowed in organic pesticides and fertilizers. Of course, not adequately tested or labeled.
 
 
+22 # RnR 2013-01-16 10:04
The entire world needs to get behind the farmers. Monsanto is an agent of genocide and total population control. It needs to be eviscerated.
 
 
+5 # Kev C 2013-01-16 10:17
I reckon the point about patenting of poisons not being permitted has a precedent that could be applied to a load of corporations products. Big Pharma springs to mind.
The first that sprang to mind was the harmful impact of Glyphosate on indigenous tribal people in Paraguay then I remembered that Glyphosate as in Round Up was and still is a Monsanto product. Now hows that for a double whammey?
 
 
+4 # Michael_K 2013-01-16 11:36
Monsanto already won because we were stupid enough to re-elect their very own bought and paid for "President".

Don't blame them for being terroristic gangsters poisoning our food supply. We are the ones allowing it and abetting it.
 
 
+5 # shawnsargent2000 2013-01-16 11:38
Monsanto, is a nuisance, they do make Glyphosate, which contaminates the environment, which certainly makes then a double whammy!
We the People need to get GMO's labeled, educate the american people on the dangers and negative health effects to humans and animals, and finally ban the planting of these crops Globally, to put this Company out of Business.
 
 
+5 # LML 2013-01-16 14:26
I buy European food products when I can because the EU requires GMO labelling.
 
 
+4 # ebeth 2013-01-16 18:02
Since we have to currently live w/ Citizens United case, file a restraining order against Monsanto and the growers.
Urge others to file trespassing complaints, breaking and entering and destruction of property
 
 
+1 # tanis 2013-01-20 08:27
everyone who eats should be involved in this battle. Look at the cancer rates with Monsanto. Look at what the farmer in Canada was able to do to Monsanto in court. Everyone needs to get rid of Monsanto's gradual poisoning of the world's farms not just the U.S. farming giants. Our big farmers are doing many things wrong, but this employment of Monsanto is the finishing blow. This is the responsibility of everyone who eats food grown in farmer's fields.
 

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