Organic farmers push for day in court against Monsanto

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Organic farmers push for day in court against Monsanto

Seed farmers came before a U.S. federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Jan. 10 in a case that could have major implications for how growers interact with agriculture company Monsanto.

Organic potato farmer Jim Gerritsen spoke with on his role as lead plaintiff in Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto, and the future of American farming.Jim-Gerritsen-OSGATA-Presi _ small

"The motion that we’re working on right now started with Monsanto in July of 2011. They filed a motion to dismiss our case claiming that farmers don’t have standing or don’t have the right to sue them. This is the culmination of that debate," Gerritsen explained.

Almost two years ago, OSGATA began a lengthy legal process - now representing 83 plaintiff organizations that encompass over 300,000 individuals - to prevent Monsanto from suing growers for patent infringement.

As of January 13, 2010, the Center for Food Safety reported that Monsanto had filed 136 lawsuits against farmers for alleged infringement of its Technology Agreement or of its seed patents, resulting in 70 judgments in the company's favor for total awards of US$23,345,820.99.

OSGATA argues that such lawsuits are predatory and that even farmers who unknowingly use or are contaminated with Monsanto products fall into legal jeopardy.

"Once the court rules that we do have standing, that farmers do meet the requirements of the law to sue Monsanto, we want to achieve protection for our farms. Right now, should Monsanto patented seeds trespass on to our farms and contaminate our crops, a couple of things happen," Gerritsen said.

"One, if you are a seed grower like my family, the value of our seed crop is extinguished because of that contamination. Beyond that, we are open to legal jeopardy of being accused of patent infringement for virtue of that contamination incident. "

Gerritsen said that the substance of their case has never been argued and that Monsanto thus far has argued against their right to be in court in the first place.

"We think it is a transparent attempt on their part to prevent farmers from having their day in court. This is America. Family farmers feed the nation. We supply the military, the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not asking too much for us to have our day in court in front of an impartial judge," he said.

Gerritsen was hopeful about Thursday's oral argument. He did, however, warn against the implications of an adverse decision.

"If the government will not protect us in allowing us to farm the way that we choose on our farms, then your access and your family’s access and every American citizen's right of access to choice on the market place, that’s effectively eliminated. We think this lawsuit has great significance for every American citizen," he explained.

Among the greater legal goals, Gerritsen said the farmers in the case simply want justice done for agriculture.

"Travelling to Washington, D.C., even speaking to media, takes time out of our schedules, so we’re not farming when we’re in Washington D.C. or last winter when we were in New York," he said.

"You’re not home watching your cattle. You’re not home cleaning your seed. There’s a certain sacrifice that farmers make but it’s a desire to see justice done."

The results of Thursday's hearing are expected to come out in two to four months. Monsanto's lawyer Seth Waxman could not be reached for comment.


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