By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A group of approximately 300 organic and small farmers protested last week in the nation’s capital, on the same day a federal court panel heard new arguments in support of reinstating the group’s lawsuit against seed giant Monsanto Co.
The farmers claimed in a March 2011 lawsuit filed by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Assoc. (OSGTA) that the St. Louis-based Monsanto unfairly slaps small growers with lawsuits alleging infringement of patents the company holds for its genetically modified seeds.
District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the suit, though, in February 2012 and the OGSTA and farmers presented oral arguments Jan. 10 before a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals, seeking reinstatement of the case. It is unknown how soon the court will render a decision.
Organic potato farmer Jim Gerritsen was one of the supporters who attended the hearing and protest, which consisted of a march to Lafayette Park and a call on federal officials not to approve the commercial sale of 13 new biotech crops and AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon.
“Family farmers need and deserve the right to farm,” Gerritsen said. “We have a right to grow good food and good seed for our families and our communities without the threat of trespass and intimidation. We need court protection so that our families will be able to carry on our farming tradition and help keep America strong.”
OSGTA claims since 1997, Monsanto has sued or settled with 844 farm families, making claims the company’s seed patents were infringed after some of its seeds naturally spread to farms.
Food Democracy Now is another plaintiff in the case, and founder Dave Murphy said, “America’s farmers deserve to be protected from unwanted contamination of their crops and the continued harassment by biotech seed giant Monsanto.”
When she dismissed the case last year, Buchwald wrote she didn’t find that farmers were infringing on Monsanto’s patents, but that she also found the group’s claims without justification for legal protection.
Buchwald also said in the ruling it was “hardly significant” that Monsanto had filed 144 patent-infringement cases over a 13-year period, given the number of farms in the United States.
Tom Helscher, Monsanto’s director of corporate affairs, said in a company statement the farmers’ claims still are without merit. “The district court ruling dismissing this case noted it was simply a transparent effort by plaintiffs to create a controversy where none exists,” he said.
“Farmers who have no interest in using Monsanto’s patented seed products have no rational basis to fear a lawsuit from Monsanto, and claims to the contrary, to quote from the District Court, are ‘groundless’ and ‘baseless.’ As was stated in the court, it has been, and remains, Monsanto’s policy not to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patents are present in a farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.”
Two days before the court hearing and protest, Monsanto announced its first quarter net income rose 160 percent, to $349 million, on sales totaling about $2.9 billion, up 20.5 percent, compared to the first quarter of the last fiscal year.