Photo: Norberto Duarte, AFP / Getty Images
Biotech giant Monsanto has been sitting pretty on their patent for herbicide-resistant seeds for more than 15 years now, but that may all come to an end soon. On behalf of 270,000 plaintiffs, including thousands of certified organic family farmers, seed-saving organizations and farmer advocacy groups, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed a lawsuit in a federal district court in Manhattan yesterday.
Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto is groundbreaking. It challenges the very "usefulness" of the GM seed product (a requirement for patents) and calls for protection for organic farmers from "being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed," states the PUBPAT foundation.
It's sadistic but true: Monsanto has aggressively sued farmers whose organic crop fields became contaminated with their product simply by way of the wind. In Monsanto's mind, that equals patent infringement.
Organic farmers want nothing to do with GM seed, but Monsanto admittedly has no control over where their crops pollinate. This includes widely-planted canola, corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa. So if cross-pollination occurs, which it often does, farmers not only lose organic certification, they're forced to defend themselves for something Monsanto caused. They also couldn't save those GM seeds even if they wanted to because patented products must be purchased -- an entirely new concept for agriculture.
Furthermore, the case questions Monsanto's right to a patent in the first place. The company produced the world's first genetically engineered plant cell in 1982 but its products have since proved economically and environmentally taxing on American farmers, claims the plaintiffs. "None of Monsanto's original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers," states David Murphy, founder and executive director of plaintiff Food Democracy Now!, a sustainable farming advocacy group.
"Rather than increased yields or less chemical usage, farmers are facing more crop diseases, an onslaught of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and increased costs from additional herbicide application." Not to mention less diversity at the farmstand.