A large group of farmers, organic agricultural organizations, and seed business are joining together as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against agricultural giant Monsanto, who they claim is threatening to monopolize food production in environmentally and socially destructive ways.
The plaintiffs are being assisted by the Public Patent Foundation. Representatives from the foundation say that the farmers are trying to delegitimize Monsanto’s patent on genetically modified crops in order to protect themselves from copyright infringement suits in the future.
Monsanto has sued hundreds of small-scale farmers for copyright infringement before, often because their own genetically modified seeds blew in with the breeze and infiltrated the fields of nearby farms without the farmers realizing it. When genetically modified seeds contaminate organic crops, they automatically take over, and Monsanto is accused of taking advantage of farmers whose crops meet this fate.
But with this case the plaintiffs hope to turn the tables on the conglomerate. Some 270,000 people will be involved as plaintiffs, many of them small businesses and family farms.
David Ravicher, the executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, explained how Monsanto threatens the biodiversity of the food supply as well as the livelihood of farmers.
“Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that’s not possible, and it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply. The release of GM canola contaminated organic canola, leading to its near extinction,” he said.
Ravicher went on to say that organic corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa, and beets are now at risk, which in effect threatened the “future of food.”
The agricultural giant has further been accused of exploiting farmers by convincing many of them to buy its genetically modified seeds. After hearing promises of high yields and disease-resistant crops, the farmers found that these problems actually worsened.
David Murphy, one of the plaintiffs and the founder of Food Democracy Now! explained, “None of Monsanto’s original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers. Rather than increased yields or less chemical usage, farmers are facing more crop diseases, an onslaught of herbicide-resistant super weeds, and increased costs from additional herbicide application,” he said.
Monsanto is no stranger to infecting the environment with threatening substances. They are the same company that introduced chemicals like Agent Orange, DDT, PCBS’s, and other harmful substances, all of which Monsanto had claimed to be safe and were later found to be harmful.
The company also has corporate lobbyists that support their interests, possibly making it more difficult for the plaintiffs to obtain the evidentiary support they need to win their case. The plaintiffs need to show that the GM crops are harmful to the environment and health in order to invalidate Monsanto’s patent.
“It is outrageous that one corporate entity, through the trespass of what they refer to as their ‘technology,’ can intimidate and run roughshod over family farmers,” said Mark Kastel, one of the plaintiffs and the Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute, as quoted by The Huffington Post. Kastel claims that Monsanto has a responsibility of ensuring that the GM crops do not trespass to neighboring farms.
Kastel went on to explain how the conglomerate planned to gain control of the entire agricultural industry.”Farmers are being intimidated into not saving seed for fear that they will be doggedly pursued through the court system and potentially bankrupted,” he said.
If the small farmers succeed, then it will prevent Monsanto from suing farmers for copyright infringement in the future, and it will force the company to take responsibility for the way their seeds infect neighboring farms.
Many believe the suit is a crucial step in support of sustainable, organic farming and democratic access to agricultural production.