Listen to differing viewpoints. Discern. Seek to understand all sides of the issue. Don’t criticize until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins. Listen some more. Ask questions. Be open-minded. Explore areas of mutual agreement. Listen again. Decide for yourself.
This post is produced with the kind assistance of Native Seed SEARCH and the Arizona Farm Bureau. I reached out to both after reading this story on my facebook wall. In full disclosure, I am a donor to Native Seed and a member of the AZ Farm Bureau.
On January 31st, the Organic Seed Grower and Trade Association (OSGATA) and 83 other parties filed a lawsuit against Monsanto. OSGATA, et. al. v. Monsanto seeks to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers and certified organic growers who find their crops cross-contaminated by genetically altered seed. The case is also challenging Monsanto’s patents on “Roundup Ready” seeds – seeds which resist Monsanto’s own weed killer, Roundup.
A 7th generation farmer from Brown Summit, NC and a certified organic farmer, Mike Faucette feels that he is being threatened by pollen, wind and the growing encroachment of genetically modified seed. Mike Faucette joined this class action lawsuit against seed patents.
My research reveals this as a calculated move by OSGATA to throw a wrench in Monsanto’s march toward total market dominance. The attorney leading the charge has picked a specific point to attack that could set a precedence and help every organic farmer. Turning away much offered support, they have purposefully limited the plaintiffs to a manageble number.
According to the Public Patent Foundation, the organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.
The Monsanto blog from last March addresses their position on some of these issues. “We’ve briefly read the allegations of the PUBPAT suit and press statement and find many of these allegations to be false, misleading and deceptive.” Briefly read juxtaposed a statement later in the blog that they are prepared to vigorously defend sounds like an oxymoron.
Monsanto lists as fact: It has never been, nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seed or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.
The practice of planting seed that has been genetically engineered to resist pests and weeds is not new. Those who advocate for genetically modified crops believe that they help farmers be more productive and guard against food shortages. So, has Monsanto exercised its patent rights against farmers? In the past 15 years, Monsanto has sued 144 farmers in 27 different states. Whether these lawsuits were for greater than trace amounts, I can’t discern but the stories made popular by investigative reporting lead me to think otherwise.
Not everyone agrees. My interpretation is that the farm bureaus are taking a neutral approach. They believe all farmers have a right to choose their seed, whether organic or biotech and frankly, this may be an area of common ground amongst the parties. At face value, that sounds reasonable but are there environmental implications that can’t be taken at face value?
Last February, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan took criticism for the agency’s decision to deregulate Monsanto’s genetically engineered alfalfa seed. The agency determined that “Round-Up Ready” seed could coexist with organic seed stock. “What didn’t get a lot of media attention was the coexist strategies we examined, we are making sure that we are increasing the production of organic seed and changing our protocols. We’re bringing on additional protocols so that the seed remains true to site.”
Judge Naomi Buchwald heard arguments in the Southern District Court of New York. Now, she is deciding whether or not to allow the case to move forward – a decision will come at the end of March. Thepopulistfarmer points out an interesting interaction between Monsanto’s attorney and the Judge. Attorney Waxman said “The requested relief that all of Monsanto’s patents be declared invalid is not going to make it less likely that the traditional processes of cross pollinations and seed drift are not going to occur, and in fact if the patents are invalidated, there will be no private restraint against any farmer in the country with or without a license using transgenic seed.” Judge replied “Actually, I never thought about that. Even if the patent was invalid, it doesn’t outlaw the product.”
- We don’t know the long-term implications of genetically engineered crops.
- Biodiversity is at risk. Today there are many varieties of seeds no longer in existence and we are beholden to groups saving seeds to keep others from extinction.
- Cross-contamination can create economic issues for small organic farmers who may no longer be able to label their products as organic due to the unwanted presence of genetically engineered seed.
- Without adequate labeling, I have to call manufacturers to find out whether or not the content has been genetically engineered.
Questions worth pondering:
- Should companies be able to own and patent genetic material?
- What are the coexist strategies for managing both genetically modified and organic crops? Who will bear the cost of management?
- Why do the European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand require GMO labeling?
There is much riding on this complicated case.
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