January 29, 2012

Organic Farmers File Lawsuit to Clarify Trespass by GE Crops

Here is an update on the lawsuit Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, filed in federal court last spring. A hearing on the matter in New York is scheduled this week. Here, the plaintiffs have filed a declaratory judgment action against the biotechnology company Monsanto (owner of numerous patents on genetically engineered (GE) crops, such as those for glyphosate-tolerant plants that resist the application of the Monsanto herbicide Roundup Ready), among others. With the backdrop of numerous lawsuits that have been filed by Monsanto against farmers for various patent-related claims, this suit is a proactive attempt by a coalition of organic farmers to clarify their status against the company, particularly for instances of inadvertent contamination of their crops by transgenic seed, which has led Monsanto to successfully sue numerous American farmers for patent infringement (facts include, e.g., saving seed beyond license agreements; trespass by GE crop contamination). This suit asks that a number of relevant Monsanto GE crop patents be declared invalid, alleging numerous bases for so finding, including that the inventions are not “useful” within the understanding of that term in U.S. patent law, drawing on many published accounts of harms with such crops: “Thus, since the harm of transgenic seed is known, and the promises of transgenic seed's benefits are false, transgenic seed is not useful for society.” Monsanto has challenged the standing of the plaintiffs, and issued a letter that disputes the existence of controversy, noting that it has pledged not to sue where “trace amounts of its patented seed or traits are present in a farmers field as a result of inadvertent means.”  Not surprisingly, this has not settled the matter.

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