Imagine if Apple tried to charge you every time you accidentally glanced at an iPhone on the street. That's basically the policy that Monsanto, an agriculture giant whose patented genes are in 95% of all soybeans and 80% of all corn grown in the U.S, enforces. The company is notorious for suing farmers that the company suspects of violating patents in even inadvertent manners. Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers and received over $15 million from these patent-violation cases (PDF), which have included incidences of farmers being sued because pollen from nearby farmers' Monsanto-brand genetically modified crops blew over the fence onto their field. Now, finally, organic farmers are fighting back.
The lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed this week on behalf of 12 seed businesses, 26 farms and farmers, and 22 agricultural associations, all of whom question whether Monsanto should have the right to sue farmers for patent infringement if GM seeds inadvertently end up on their property.
The suit, filed by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), explains:
In the case, PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement. One reason justifying this result is that Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don't meet the "usefulness" requirement of patent law, according to PUBPAT's Ravicher, plaintiffs' lead attorney in the case. Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing today proves that genetically modified seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of genetically modified seed —increased production and decreased herbicide use—are false.
Translation: According to the farmers, not only is Monsanto's patent policy out of control, but its patents aren't even useful in the first place—they're harmful. The lawsuit couldn't come at a better time for the organic farming industry; GM alfalfa, a crop whose pollen can travel via wind up to five miles, has been approved by the U.S government. And GM sugar beets, which can easily cross-contaminate with non-GM sugar beets, were also recently approved. Having protection against Monsanto's lawsuits will be a necessity for these farms in the coming years.
[Homepage photo by Flickr user Mahalie]