Supreme Court Hands a Victory to Monsanto

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A group of organic farmers seeking relief from Monsanto and its practice of suing growers for patent infringement lost for the third time in federal court when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate their lawsuit.


The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) sued Monsanto in 2011 to protect farmers from the biotechnology “bully,” which has filed more than 100 lawsuits claiming organic growers violated the company’s seed-gene patents. An additional 700 cases were settled out of court. It has also been estimated that hundreds of farmers are investigated annually by Monsanto for patent infringement.


In these cases stemming from Monsanto’s lawsuits, the farmers took no action to incorporate Monsanto seeds into their crops, which became contaminated through the natural travel of the genetically-modified seeds from neighboring farms. This contamination occurs either from accidental seed-mixing or cross-pollination during harvest. The burden has been on the farmers to protect their crops by conducting genetic testing, establishing buffer zones, or simply giving up on planting the crop anymore.


“Farmers have suffered economic loss because they've abandoned growing corn and soybeans because they are certain they will be contaminated,” OSGATA president Jim Gerritsen said a year ago. “They cannot put their farms and families at risk of being sued for patent infringement.”


It’s been estimated that 93% of soybeans and 88% of corn are genetically modified, the majority of them by Monsanto.


OSGATA’s lawsuit was dismissed in a federal district court in Manhattan by Judge Naomi Buchwald.


Dan Ravicher, executive director the Public Patent Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs, then filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. There, a three-judge panel refused to reinstate the case. Their last hope was to petition the Supreme Court. But the justices refused the appeal.


“While the Supreme Court's decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto’s patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits,” Ravicher said in a prepared statement after the court’s decision.


“Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than one percent. For farmers contaminated by more than one percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto's patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers,” he added.


OSGATA’s Gerritsen expressed frustration last year over the lack of help from the courts for small organic farmers.


“We are not customers of Monsanto. We don't want their seed. We don't want their gene-spliced technology. We don't want their trespass onto our farms. We don't want their contamination of our crops. We don't want to have to defend ourselves from aggressive assertions of patent infringement because Monsanto refuses to keep their pollution on their side of the fence. We want justice.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Supreme Court Denies Family Farmers the Right to Self-Defense from Monsanto Abuse (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association)

Monsanto Versus the People (by Charlotte Silver, Al Jazeera)

Supreme Court Sides With 'Notorious Patent Bully Monsanto' (by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams)

Soybean Farmer Faces Showdown with Monsanto at Supreme Court (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Will Monsanto Win the Genetic Food Fight in California as It Did in Congress? (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


nomange 5 years ago
By virtue this ruling Monsanto is able to frighten away anyone seeking to grow those crops and create for itself a monopoly in the marketplace that goes beyond what the patent law contemplated. Too bad the farmers cannot sue Monsanto for trespass and contamination of their crops. And, for those GMO crops that are creating environmental damage, it is an outrage that the government is not willing to enforce the law.
curious 5 years ago
Curious if these farmers have thought about taking this from another prospective. Sue Monsanto for genetically infecting thier crops. Instead of expecting the farmer from protecting his crop from genetic contamination, expect monsanto to take action to prevent its genetic material from contaminiating other crops.
deivasahayam 5 years ago
The SC judgement is punishing the sufferer and rewarding the culprit
Tom 5 years ago
I have a question. Mr. Ravicher said he had clients who were contaminated to an extent greater than 1%... but they were not in the original list of petitioners in this case. Were they intentionally excluded? If they weren't, would this case have had more standing in the courts since contamination over 1% would put them outside the USDA National Organic Program standard?

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