by Jenni Williams, Communication Director for Florida Organic Growers
January marked a landmark decision in the federal lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto.
The large plaintiff group of 83 American and Canadian family farmers, independent seed companies and agricultural organizations whose combined memberships total over one million citizens, including non-GMO farmers and over 25 percent of North America’s certified organic farmers, were denied the right to argue their case in court and gain protection from potential abuse by the agrichemical and genetic engineering giant, Monsanto. Additionally, the high court decision dashes the hopes of family farmers who sought the opportunity to prove in court Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed patents are invalid.
Farmers had sought Court protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act that should they become the innocent victims of contamination by Monsanto’s patented gene-splice technology they could not perversely be sued for patent infringement.
In a complicated ruling issued in June 2013 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., American farmers were initially handed a partial victory when the three justices agreed with the farmers’ assertion that contamination by Monsanto was inevitable. The justices ordered Monsanto not to sue American farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of patented material, which the Court defined as one percent.
“I am disappointed and saddened that the U.S. Supreme Court denied the right to self-defense in this case,” said Marty Mesh, executive director of Florida Organic Growers, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We were hopeful that the Supreme Court would hear this important case, one where organic and conventional growers and farm organizations seek justice.”
“Famers who want no part of this technology or the company only asked for assurance that Monsanto would never sue them for patent infringement,” said Mesh. “No damages, just assurance. Monsanto would rather spend many hundred thousand or millions of dollars on some of the most expensive attorneys to fight rather than just agree not to sue these innocent farmers. They also dismissed the motion to make sure farmers don’t have their day in court and to make sure the questioning of the legitimacy of the patents are not heard before a judge or jury. Again, the merits of the case were never heard, all of this was only to attempt to have the case heard.”
A small victory came with the defeat. The victory was achieved in the appellate court after repeated questioning by one of the judges. Monsanto finally defined “insignificant” saying they would not sue farmers for insignificant amounts, which they said in another case was a vague term which had no meaning. However, that will prove to be inadequate as contamination and genetic pollution continue as human and environmental risks grow, and those concerns are better researched.
This battle is by no means over. There are issues that deserve a public discussion and legal items that will be asked to have a day in court. There is still undue influence in regulatory, legal, academic, media and international food sovereignty discussions. There are health, environmental, moral, ethical, and legal concerns and those concerns are not putting up any white flag.
There are public school teachers that are not allowed to say anything negative about GMOs and researchers who are scared to publish or speak out against the tidal wave for fear of retribution from their institution or destroying their careers.
How’s that for industry influence in public education, discussion and democracy?