Following a law suit filed by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) on March 30 on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agriculture organizations against the Monsanto company, challenging the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed, the Cornucopia Institute reports that new threats have led to the filing of an amended complaint in June.
"Our clients don't want a fight with Monsanto, they merely want to be protected from the threat that they will be contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed and then accused of patent infringement," said PUBPAT executive director Daniel B. Ravicher. "We asked Monsanto to give our clients reassurances they wouldn't do such a thing, and in response Monsanto chose to instead reiterate the same implicit threat to organic agriculture that it has made in the past."
Over the years Monsanto has sued farmers alleging they have stolen the corporation's intellectual property by saving their proprietary seed rather than purchasing new seed each year that would include a ‘technology fee’. Because pollen, and genetics, can be spread through the wind, or by insects, farmers are vulnerable to having their crops contaminated and then subsequently being sued by Monsanto.
Soon after the March filing of the lawsuit, Monsanto issued a statement saying that they would not assert their patents against farmers who suffer “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination. In response, and in the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys wrote Monsanto’s attorneys asking the company to make its promise legally binding.
The biotechnology giant responded by hiring former solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of WilmerHale. Waxman completely rejected PUBPAT's simple request and confirmed instead that Monsanto may indeed make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields become contaminated by Monsanto's GM seed.
"Monsanto has run roughshod over organic and conventional farmers who have chosen to be sensitive to consumers’ concerns, and marketplace demand, by shunning genetic engineering in their seed purchases and the crops they produce," said Mark A. Kastel, co-director of advocacy group the Cornucopia Institute, a co-plaintiff in the suit with over 4,000 members, most of whom are organic farmers. "Because of Monsanto's massive investments in federal political campaigns, and in lobbying, it's important that an independent judiciary protects citizen-farmers from intimidation."
"Monsanto's letter was a completely empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion that shows they are only interested in trying to spin propaganda and do not want to take serious steps to resolve the problem they have created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture," said one of the co-plaintiffs in the suit, Don Patterson of Virginia.
"The seriousness of the issues being engaged in this case requires a constructive and socially-acceptable response from the defendant in the public interest," added Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen, president of Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, the lead plaintiff in the suit. "In the absence of that, we reassert the essential importance of the arguments stated in March and reinforced now by the additional evidence of Monsanto’s intransigence. Monsanto's utter failure to act reasonably to address our concerns has only reaffirmed the need for our lawsuit."
In addition to supplementing the complaint with Monsanto's most recent actions, PUBPAT announced that a new group of 23 organizations, seed companies, and farms or individual farmers have joined the original plaintiffs in the suit bringing the total number of plaintiffs to 83, comprising 36 organizations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers.