Suing Before the Seeds Blow
April 4, 2011 | Robert Puro
They might not be sued, but then again they might be. It’s all about the possibility of patent-protected transgenic seed, as the famous Dylan song goes, ‘blowin’ in the wind’ and cross-pollinating non-transgenic crops.
In an effort to thwart patent infringement lawsuits that might arise at some point in the future should GM seed ‘blowin’ in the wind’ contaminate their crops, 60 family farmers, organic agricultural organizations, and seed companies have filed a preemptive suit against Monsanto.
The suit, filed by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) “asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property” says PUBPAT Executive Director Dan Ravicher. In the PUBPAT press release Ravicher goes on to say that “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”
Plaintiffs in the case worry that they will increasingly come under fire for infringement as Monsanto introduces GM seeds for sugar beets, alfalfa, and other crops. According to the Center for Food Safety from the period of 1997 – 2005 Monsanto filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers for patent infringement. As of 2005, total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for patent-infringement amount to $15,253,602.82.
Monsanto has responded to the suit by calling its allegations “false, misleading and deceptive.” Monsanto states:
We’ve briefly read the allegations of the PUBPAT suit and press statement and find many of these allegations to be false, misleading and deceptive.
Here are the facts:
Monsanto has not ever sued and has publicly committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields.
Biotechnology crops have provided a wealth of benefits to farmers and the environment. It is well established that farmers growing biotech crops realize many benefits including increased yields and lower production costs, and the use of these crops have resulted in an increase in the adoption of conservation tillage practices that reduce soil erosion. These benefits are the reason why farmers have overwhelmingly and willingly chosen to use these technologies year after year. These crops have been grown widely in the United States for the past 15 years, and have been planted on more than 2 billion acres by 15 million farmers throughout the world.
Plaintiffs allegations regarding patent validity are contrary to long established legal precedent which supports the validity of Monsanto’s patents and others in the biotechnology field.
The plaintiffs’ approach is a publicity stunt designed to confuse the facts about American agriculture. These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies. This attack comes at a time when the world needs every agricultural tool available to meet the needs of a growing population, expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don’t believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach. Rather we believe that farmers should have the ability to choose the best agricultural tools to farm their own land and serve their own end-market customers. We are confident that these multiple approaches can coexist side-by-side and sustainably meet the world’s food needs over next 40 years.
We stand behind the American farmer, remain committed to investing in new tools to help American agriculture meet the needs of our growing world, and are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves.