March 28, 2012

Organic farmers appeal decision in Monsanto lawsuit

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Organic farmers filed an appeal Wednesday in a case challenging chemical giant Monsanto’s patents on gentically-modified seeds. The appeal seeks to reinstate the case that was dismissed in February by U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York before it went to court.

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Certified organic crops cannot contain genetically modified components. Such contamination could force farmers to lower prices for their crops or destroy them.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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The group bringing the lawsuit is the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which is headed by Maine potato-seed farmer Jim Gerritsen of Bridgewater.

“A year ago we filed the lawsuit because farmers deserve justice and we haven’t yet received it, so we’re going to keep fighting until we get it,” Gerritsen said. “That’s why we had to appeal. We’re not asking for any monetary settlement. We simply want the right to be free to grow how we want on our farms without being faced with a patent-infringement lawsuit should we be contaminated by Monsanto.”

In addition to questioning the legal basis for Monsanto’s genetically modified seed patents, the lawsuit seeks to give organic farmers blanket protection from patent-infringement lawsuits should their crops become contaminated through pollination by Monsanto’s genetically altered plants.

By law, certified organic crops cannot contain genetically modified material.

The lawsuit was originally filed in March 2011 by OSGATA and more than 80 agricultural and consumer groups, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to reduce abuses of the U.S. patent system.

Monsanto filed the motion that led to the dismissal of the case and has maintained throughout the case that it doesn’t sue farmers whose crops are inadvertently contaminated by its genetically modified seeds. Monsanto brought 144 lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and 2010 and settled 700 cases out of court during the same period.

The case now goes to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. The earliest the case could be heard is this fall.

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