In a recent Boulder Weekly article titled “Behind the GMO curtain” (Dec. 15), Lisa Drake, Monsanto’s Englewood-based lead for state and local government affairs, was quoted as saying “We [Monsanto] sure don’t make it a practice of suing our own customers.” Drake also told BW that those who say that Monsanto regularly sues farmers for being in possession of her company’s patented GMO seeds after those seeds have drifted onto their property through no fault of their own are making wildly inaccurate claims. As of Tuesday, Jan. 31, it seems more likely than ever that such assertions by Monsanto and its employees will finally be put to the test before a jury in a New York City courtroom. It has been a long road to reach this point.
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed a lawsuit last year against Monsanto Company on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations. According to PUBPAT’s website, the suit was filed “to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue 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 “wildly inaccurate claims” referred to by Monsanto’s Drake seem less wild every day. According to recent reporting from In These Times, “The agro-giant acknowledges that since 1997, it has filed suit against farmers 145 times and has settled another 700 alleged infringements out of court.”
The current lawsuit, which is known as Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan in March. According to PUBPAT, “In June, 23 additional plaintiffs were added to the suit, bringing the total number to 83.” As of this week, the class action suit represents more than 300,000 organic farmers, seed companies and affiliated organizations.
As would be expected, Monsanto filed a motion last year to have the case dismissed, a ploy that usually works for the politically influential corporation, but not this time. After reading written arguments for why the case should not be dismissed, Judge Naomi Buchwald agreed to move the case forward by hearing oral arguments on Jan. 31. She heard those arguments earlier this week and has announced that she will make a final decision regarding the case going before a jury no later than March 31. Judge Buchwald’s decision was enthusiastically welcomed by a gathering of organic farmers and Occupy supporters who had joined them outside the Manhattan courthouse.
The lead plaintiff in the case, OSGATA, is located in Montrose, Colo. On the organization’s website, president of OSGATA Jim Gerritsen made this statement about the lawsuit and its progress: “Today is Independence Day for America. Today we are seeking protection from the Court and putting Monsanto on notice. Monsanto’s threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto’s genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now. Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace — to decide what kind of food they will feed their families — and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose. Organic farmers have the right to raise our organic crops for our families and our customers on our farms without the threat of invasion by Monsanto’s genetic contamination and without harassment by a reckless polluter. Beginning today, America asserts her right to justice and pure food.”