by Jenni Williams, Florida Organic Growers, Inc. (FOG)
In March 2011, 75 family farmers, seed businesses and agricultural organizations representing over 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms brought a pre-emptive case against Monsanto in the Southern District of New York. They specifically sought to defend themselves from nearly two dozen of Monsanto’s most aggressively asserted patents on GMO seed.
In Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto, the plaintiffs were forced to sue pre-emptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should their fields ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.
In an attempt to sidestep the challenge, Monsanto moved to have the case dis- missed, saying that the plaintiffs’ concerns were unrealistic.
In February 2012, the district court took Monsanto’s side and dismissed the case, ridiculing the farmers in the process. Despite the fact that the plaintiffs are at risk for being contaminated by genetically modified seed and then sued for patent infringement by Monsanto, Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York dismissed the case because she didn’t find a case worthy of adjudication, saying “it is clear that these circumstances do not amount to a substantial controversy and that there has been no injury traceable to defendants.”
In an effort to reverse the lower court’s decision from February, the group filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington on July 5, 2012. In the brief, the plaintiffs pointed out numerous errors in the district court decision that warrant reversal. Among them are the lower court’s failure to accept certain facts alleged by the plaintiffs that were undisputed by Monsanto, application of too harsh a legal standard on the plaintiffs to show the existence of a controversy, and neglect of public policy that encourages broad jurisdiction be available to those challenging bogus patents like Monsanto’s.
In January 2013, dozens of family farmers, seed businesses, and agricultural organizations traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent over 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms in the January 10 Oral Argument to be aired in front of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Their mission was still the same—to reverse a lower court’s decision to dismiss their protective legal action against agricultural giant Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed.
On June 10, 2013, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the group of organic and otherwise non-GMO farmer and seed company plaintiffs were not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents “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).’”
In September 2013, the group petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case against Monsanto.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree to hear this important case, one where organic and conventional growers and farm organizations seek justice,” said Marty Mesh, Executive Director of Florida Organic Growers, a nonprofit organization based in Gainesville and one of the organizations involved in the case. “That opportunity in court to talk about the important points that are raised in the case has been denied. We have spent years arguing whether the case should be heard, not about the merits of the suit.”
“We became a co-plaintiff at the request of organic farmers after Monsanto simply refused to agree not to sue organic farmers who never wanted their patented material in their fields. Common sense would say Monsanto should be responsible and not have the ability to sue victims of genetic trespass. It is comparable to a chemical company, whose product drifted on an organic farmer’s fields, harassing and suing the organic farmer for being there. It is clear regulatory process has failed, the legislative process has failed, and now we are hopeful the courts will at least give the case a listen.”