SALEM, Ohio — Two major farm organizations with differing philosophies on seeds and seed technology have released sparring statements about how they plan to handle cross-“contamination” of genetically modified seeds in organic fields, as it pertains to patent rights.
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a major organic certifier, is seeking legal action through the Public Patent Foundation that would prohibit Monsanto Co. from suing organic farmers and seed growers, should Monsanto’s seeds “contaminate” organic farmers’ land.
The OEFFA release says Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement. Monsanto calls the suit “a publicity stunt” and says it has never sued and is “publicly committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields.”
Some 60 other organic-related organizations join OEFFA in suing “preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.”
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald.
The plaintiffs say they are increasingly “threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it.”
The case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic 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,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.
Organic farmer protection
The suit asks Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement.
But the plaintiffs also delve into the question of genetically modified seed — whether it is safe and should be allowed.
According to the plaintiffs’ release, “Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed contaminates and destroys organic seed for the same crop. … Monsanto is developing genetically modified seed for many other crops, thus putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture, at stake.”
Monsanto begs to differ
The company says “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.”
Organics and GMOs co-exist?
OEFFA Executive Director Carol Goland says “Consumers indicate, overwhelmingly, that they prefer foods made without genetically modified organisms. Organic farms, by regulation, may not use GMOs, while other farmers forego using them for other reasons. 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.”
Monsanto says farmers should have the right to choose how they want to farm — organically or conventionally — using the technologies available.
“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,” according to Monsanto.
“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,” Monsanto says. “We are confident that these multiple approaches can coexist side-by-side and sustainably meet the world’s food needs over next 40 years.”
The company says it “stands behind the American farmer” in helping American agriculture meet the needs of the growing world, and is “prepared to vigorously defend ourselves.”