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Willie Nelson Says 'Occupy the Food System'

300,000 Activists in Suit Against Monsanto

- Common Dreams staff

Willie Nelson's call to "occupy the food system" echoes the calls in a lawsuit of over 300,000 plaintiffs challenging big ag giant Monsanto's control over seed.

Willie Nelson wrote:

Willie Nelson(photo: Dave Hensley)

Our banks were deemed too big to fail, yet our food system's corporations are even bigger. Their power puts our entire food system at stake. [...]

Nothing is more important than the food we eat and the family farmers who grow it. Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil, pollution of our water and health epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

We simply can't afford it. Our food system belongs in the hands of many family farmers, not under the control of a handful of corporations.

The Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA) explains the lawsuit against Monsanto background on its website:

The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhatten on March 29, 2011, on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed. On June 1, 2011, we amplified our OSGATA v. Monsanto complaint by bringing on an additional 23 Plaintiffs to bring the total to 83. Our plaintiff group now represents over 300,000 members.

(photo: Ian MacKenzie)

As Grist noted last week, the plaintiffs say that "Monsanto wants ultimate and absolute control over everything:"

OSGATA and company finally got their day in court on Jan. 31. Approximately 200 farmers and supporters showed up in front of the Federal District Court in Manhattan for opening arguments. Occupy Wall Street’s food justice working group helped organize the rally, though they are not plaintiffs in the suit. “We’re part of OWS, which is all about corporate consolidation, and you can’t discuss that without addressing agriculture,” says Corbin Laedlein, a member of the working group.

“We want nothing to do with Monsanto. We don’t want their seed. We don’t want their technology. We don’t want their contamination,” says Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer from Maine and president of OSGATA. The organization originally brought the idea of a suit to the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a group that wants to change how patent law works in the U.S., and PUBPAT took on the case pro bono. In Gerritsen’s estimation, about 300,000 individuals are involved in the case by proxy of organizations they’re a part of, including most certified organic farmers in the country. Gerritsen calls the dustings of GMO-crop pollen and the occasional seed carried wayward by the wind — a natural atmospheric occurrence found in what is known as the “outdoors” — contamination which not only is unwelcome, but can also could potentially lower the quality and value of organic and other non-GMO crops.

“They are probably the most aggressive patent holder in the U.S.,” Gerritsen adds. According to PUBPAT, between 1997 and April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement, and more than 500 farms are investigated each year.

“The seed that Monsanto doesn’t control, they will control through contamination,” Gerritsen says. “Monsanto wants ultimate and absolute control over everything.”

* * *

On December 4, 2011, Gerritsen joined the Occupy Wall Street Farmers March. He explained the suit against Monsanto and why farmer control over seed is so important:

[Note from editors: This article has been modified to show that Willie Nelson is not one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.]

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