In a major blow to organic farmers and food sovereignty advocates, the US Court of Appeals Monday has thrown out a lawsuit against Ag Giant Monsanto meant to protect organic growers against accusations of patent infringement by the "world's most famous patent bully."
"The district court concluded that there was no justiciable case or controversy and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not 'take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes (because, for example, some transgenic seed or pollen blew onto the grower’s land),'and appellants have not alleged any circumstances placing them beyond the scope of those assurances, we agree that there is no justiciable case or controversy," stated the appellate court's ruling.
The aforementioned 'binding assurances' refer to a statement on the company's website which claims it “has never been nor will it be Monsanto policy to exercise its patent rights where trace amounts of our patented seeds or traits are present in farmer’s fields as a result of inadvertent means.”
Despite these claims, the company has thus far pursued over 800 patent cases against farmers who plant their genetically modified (GMO) RoundUp Ready seeds without paying the proper royalty—whether deliberate or not—including a May Supreme Court ruling which favored the biotech company in a suit against Indiana soybean farmer Hugh Vernon, who planted unlabeled seeds he had purchased second-hand.
"It is a very bizarre ruling that relies on a paragraph on a website," said Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, which joined as a plaintiff in the suit. "It is a very real threat to American farmers."
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The coalition who filed the suit—which includes the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association among over 20 others—had hoped the action would serve as a "pre-emptive strike" on behalf of organic farmers to protect against accusations of patent infringement in the case that their organic crops become contaminated by genetically modified (GM) seeds.
Reuters reports that Monsanto officials specifically refused to sign a covenant stating it would not sue the growers, though the court felt the website statement "was sufficient and would be binding."
The ruling comes as scientists grapple with the recent discovery of Monsanto's unapproved GMO wheat in an Oregon field, spurring concerns over potential contamination by the controversial GM seeds which can easily be spread by wind or pollinators.
"Monsanto is the world's most famous patent bully," OSGATA President, Jim Gerritsen, said ahead of the ruling. "Monsanto villainizes everyone they sue, and everyone they come up against becomes the bad guy."