Tuesday, February 28, 2012

U.S. District Judge Rejects Organic Farmers' Suit Against Monsanto

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, Southern District of New York, last week dismissed a lawsuit that a group of organic farmers, seed companies and food safety groups had filed in March, 2011, against agribusiness giant Monsanto Corporation. The plaintiffs acted preemptively, essentially seeking protection against lawsuits by Monsanto should the corporation sue for patent infringement based on the anticipated but unintended (and, indeed, undesirable) presence of genetically modified crops among their yields. The plaintiffs sought a ruling that that Monsanto's patent were invalid because they are "injurious." The plaintiffs claimed that Monsanto's practice was to "aggressively assert[]" patent claims against U.S. farmers. They plaintiffs alleged that Monsanto engages in "baseless litigation to intimidate farmers and restrict competition with its transgenic seed."

Buchwald rejected these arguments, writing:

There is no evidence that plaintiffs are infringing defendants' patents, nor have plaintiffs suggested when, if ever, such infringement will occur.

Indeed, Judge Buchwald found the plaintiffs' claims "unsubstantiated ... given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened." Judge Buchwald also found that the plaintiffs had "overstate[d] the magnitude of [the defendant's] patent enforcement." Monsanto brings an average of 13 patent-enforcement lawsuits each year. Judge Buchwald found this "hardly significant when compared to he number of farms in the United States, approximately two million."

In addition to fearing patent infringement claims by Monsanto, the organic farmers and other plaintiffs note that genetically modified organism (GMO) material also lowers the value of their product. Because of unavoidable cross-pollination, most organic corn in the U.S. contains between half a percent and two percent GMOs. Read more here.

The case is Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v. Monsanto Co., 11-02163, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Read NPR's coverage of the matter here. The Sacramento Bee ran this Monsanto Press Release.

Cross-posted to Legal Ruralism. Photo above: organic farm in Newton County, Arkansas.

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