270,000 Farmers v. Monsanto

Written by: Colin Hudson

Monsanto, the GMO seed giant, may be receiving a taste of their own medicine. On March 30, 2011, 270,000 organic farmers and seed growers filed a lawsuit that demanded legal protection from Monsanto should their fields be contaminated by stray, genetically modified seeds.  The suit is a first in the current war on agricultural big business as it seeks to approach the problem preemptively.

A Brief Monsanto Back Story

     Monsanto is  one of the largest developers and sellers of genetically modified crops and seeds in the world.  Monsanto holds the patents on many different forms of proprietary corn, soy, and canola seeds, all of which work in conjunction with their RoundUp range of non targeted herbicides.  These seeds have been genetically altered to be able to grow in harsh conditions and survive direct contact with RoundUp pesticides and herbicides.  This sounds good, and may very well be, but these crops have many side effects.  For one thing, these plants are also bred to be sterile. This means that the plants do not naturally reproduce.  So in order to continue to grow Monsanto crops, the farmers must rebuy the seeds each season.  This is just one example of how Monsanto maintains a strangle hold on the seed market, but they have other ways of making sure that farmers do exactly what they want them to.

Since 1997, Monsanto has filed lawsuits against 178 farmers on grounds of copy write infringement.  Monsanto claims that these farmers were guilty of growing Monsanto crops without permission.  The problem with these lawsuits is that the majority of the farmers who were targeted were not at fault at all.  The majority of these farmers’ fields were contaminated through the natural spread of seeds from neighboring farms. 128 lawsuits in over ten years does not appear to be a large number, until you look at the fact that Monsanto has settled more than 700 other cases out of court for undisclosed amounts during the same time period.  This aggressive, and successful, legal strategy had many farmers running scared for the better part of 10 years.

The Organic Farming Movement Attacks Monsanto 

Now, there is a new kid on the block. As the worlds view of the food industry gradually changes due to documentaries and exposes such as Food Inc. and Food Matters, some farmers are standing up to the corporate tyrant.  The organic food movement is a fast growing business sector.  Organic farmers must adhere to strict guidelines in order to acquire and  maintain USDA Organic status.  One of the things that threatens this status is involuntary contamination by GMO seeds and crops.  Such contaminations could result in loss of Organic status as well as an unfriendly visit from the Monsanto legal team.  This is why a large group of organic farmers have decided to make a stand and fight for protection from the corporate giant Monsanto.

A group of 270,000 organic farmers and seed growers filed suit on March 30, 2011 asking for protection should their fields be contaminated by Monsanto crops. This step is a huge upset to the Monsanto legal machine.  Monsanto has been very slow to respond and reluctant to sign any type of legally binding agreement.  Monsanto has stated that it would not sue any farmer whose crops contain trace amounts of GMO seeds or whose crops had been involuntarily contaminated.  Although Monsanto made this statement, it refused to sign any form of legal document that would solidify this claim.  So, at this juncture, Monsanto has not really done anything of note and is not budging on its aggressive legal stance towards small farm owners.

So what does the future hold?

     It is very difficult to tell what will come of this lawsuit. Ideally, the small business organic farmers could win some form of legal protection from the harassment of Monsanto. However, Monsanto is a huge corporation with many millions of dollars to throw around.  In the world that we live in, full of corruption and greed, it is no long shot that the court’s decision will be bought by Monsanto and they will be allowed to continue to terrorize farmers as they have been for over a decade.

As for now, the farmers have done all that they can do.  They have gone through the proper channels to try and achieve some sort of change.  They have brought the fight to Monsanto, now the waiting game begins. The American Legal system takes forever to achieve any type of results.  This, coupled with the fact that Monsanto has a crack legal team, means that this case could get dragged out for years.  One of the greatest tools for a corporation is making a lawsuit a war of attrition.  If a company can drag out a case for long enough, the other side, in this case the farmers, will inevitably run out of money.  This is the path that I predict this case will follow.  Now we just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.  Hopefully there will be a verdict at some point during our life times.

 Works consulted:

“Organic farmers sue Monsanto.” rt.com. RT, 28 Jul. 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

http://rt.com/usa/news/organic-monsanto-lawsuit-seed/

Magnuson, Danielle. “Organic v. Monsanto.” growswitch.com. GrowSwitch, Jul. 26, 2011.      Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

www.growswitch.com/blog/2011/07/270000-organic-farmers-sue-monsanto/#.TrgKqmAcU18

“Case Update: 270,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto.” wakeup-world.com. Wake Up        World. 19 Sep. 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

http://wakeup-world.com/2011/09/19/case-update-270000-organic-farmers-sue-monsanto/

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