In a lawsuit against lawsuits, a coalition of organic farmers and farms are trying to curtail a giant agribusiness’s practice of suing them for patent violations that the farmers claim are completely unintentional.
According to the farmers, genetically-modified crops—corn, for example—can find their way into the organic farms’ crops. For the farmers, this is a contamination—after all, the selling point of their product is that it is not a genetically modified organism, or GMO, and the presence of genetic modification can threaten its organic status.
“We consider the threat of contamination from GMO crops to be significant,” Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer in Maine and president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), told the Los Angeles Times. “And the reality is that the organic market will not tolerate anything that has GMO content, either by design or by contamination.”
Here, though, is the kicker: Monsanto has been known to sue these organic farmers for patent infringement. According to the L.A. Times article, it has sued more than 100 farmers for infringement, and these suits may be responsible for the drastic changes in the composition of the farming industry. A report at RT.com says that “Unable to afford a proper defense, competing small farms have been bought out by the company in droves. As a result, Monsanto saw their profits increase by the hundreds of millions over the last few.”
Farmers say that the Monsanto seeds find their way into their crops due to wind, cross pollination, or transfer by animals. Monsanto argues that it does not pursue farmers who inadvertently acquire Monsanto seeds, but according to the L.A. Times article, the operating definition of “inadvertent” gives the benefit of the doubt—and then some—to Monsanto: “In other words, it’s the responsibility of the non-GMO farmer to keep the GMO off his farm.”
The litigation is already underway, with Judge Naomi Buchwald hearing oral arguments in OSGATA et al. v. Monsanto on Jan. 31 in federal district court in New York City. The plaintiffs are a group of 83 farmers and groups, accounting for as much as 25% of the nation’s organic farmers. Buchwald said she intends to deliver her judgment by the end of March.