No 361 Posted by fw, December 11, 2011
“Gerritsen heads OSGATA, based in Montrose, Colo., which is leading 83 plaintiffs in the case against Monsanto. The individual farmers, seed companies and agricultural organizations that have signed onto the case represent about 300,000 members nationwide. “Monsanto is trying to achieve seed control based on aggressive assertion of patent infringement,” Gerritsen said, explaining that the farmers’ lawsuit has two goals: to protect organic farmers against patent infringement lawsuits and to challenge the validity of patents issued to Monsanto.” —Kathryn Olmstead
Maine Organic Farmer Leads Fight Against Monsanto By Kathryn Olmstead, Bangor Daily News, 10 December 11. Added subheadings and links are mine.
Gerritsen named to Utne Reader list of 23 world changing visionaries
I have wanted to catch up with Bridgewater organic farmer Jim Gerritsen ever since he was named in October to the 2011 list of 25 visionaries who are changing the world by the national magazine Utne Reader. When I finally succeeded last weekend, he was on his way to New York City to give a speech and participate in the Dec. 4 rally and “Farmers’ March” to Zuccotti Park organized by the Food Justice Committee of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Gerritsen, 56, who with his wife, Megan, and their family has operated Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater since 1976, is on a mission that has put him in the national – and international – spotlight. As president of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the trade organization for the organic seed industry, he is the lead plaintiff in a suit to protect growers and consumers of organic foods.
Monsanto’s gene-spliced organisms do “irrevocable damage”
The defendant is Monsanto Corp., world leader in production of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, intended to increase yields of herbicide-resistant crops – crops that can withstand sprays such as Roundup that kill the weeds around them. Airborne or insect-borne pollen from these transgenic, or gene-spliced, crops can do irrevocable damage to organic seed crops. But loss of crops is only the beginning.
“Farmers lose not only the value of the organic crop, but we are also open to patent infringement lawsuits,” Gerritsen said “Monsanto can contend that the (organic) farm is in possession of a (patented) Monsanto product.”
Monsanto’s lawsuits against farmers rack up $15 million in favorable judgments
To date, Monsanto has sued 90 American farmers for patent infringement, receiving an estimated $15 million for judgments in its favor, according to the Center for Food Safety. Many cases have been settled out of court with farmers bound to confidentiality. Monsanto dominates the sale of seed stocks worldwide, especially corn, soybeans and cotton, and sends private investigators to farms suspected of replanting saved seed.
Mainstream media breakthrough — NY Times carries the Gerritsen story
Hence, the legal action, OSGATA v. Monsanto, has captured the attention of international media, but mostly the alternative press in the United States – until Monday, that is, when Gerritsen’s role in Sunday’s Farmers’ March was reported in the New York Times under the headline: A Maine Farmer Speaks to Wall Street.
Gerritsen-led OSGATA represents 83 plaintiffs and 300,000 members
Gerritsen heads OSGATA, based in Montrose, Colo., which is leading 83 plaintiffs in the case against Monsanto. The individual farmers, seed companies and agricultural organizations that have signed onto the case represent about 300,000 members nationwide.
Monsanto alleges “patent infringement”
“Monsanto is trying to achieve seed control based on aggressive assertion of patent infringement,” Gerritsen said, explaining that the farmers’ lawsuit has two goals: to protect organic farmers against patent infringement lawsuits and to challenge the validity of patents issued to Monsanto.
Oh, the irony of Monsanto’s lawsuit
“Organic farming is predicated on the concept of crops free of GMO content,” he said, noting the irony of a suit against a farmer by the company that has destroyed that farmer’s crop.
“If organic seed is contaminated, there is no way to grow nongenetically modified crops,” he said. “The outcome will be either seed controlled directly by Monsanto or contaminated by Monsanto.“
The stakes of this case are high for both sides
If the 83 plaintiffs led by OSGATA are successful, Monsanto would be forced by the court not to sue farmers whose crops are contaminated by the corporation’s product. When lawyers for the farm groups – working on a pro bono basis – requested such a guarantee, Monsanto refused.
“They are reserving the option to go after those farmers,” Gerritsen said, adding that Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss the case last July. “We need to get the court to protect farmers from invasion, trespassing and patent infringement. We are anxious to get into court.“
If the plaintiffs achieve their second goal, the court will agree that the U.S. Patent Office erred in granting Monsanto patents for crops that do not fulfill the “social utility” standard, which requires that a new invention will result in some “social good.”
Gerritsen points the finger of blame at Obama and corporate-friendly U.S. government agencies
Gerritsen faults not only the U.S. Patent Office, but also the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which accepted Monsanto’s claim that GMO products are “substantially equivalent” to traditional seed and need not be labeled. Thus, consumers can’t know what foods have been grown using GMO technology.
“They can’t have it both ways,” he said, questioning the awards of patents for products because they are new, which then evade labeling because they are not new.
“President Obama promised mandatory labeling of genetically modified products and we must hold him to that,” Gerritsen said, acknowledging a possible challenge: The current deputy commissioner of the FDA, which regulates labeling, Michael R. Taylor, is a former vice president of Monsanto.
Gerritsen said the plaintiffs hope the case will go to trial by late winter or early spring. At this point, they are still awaiting a ruling on the motion to dismiss.
Case could drag on for years and end up in Supreme Court before Justice Clarence Thomas, former Monsanto attorney
“Once we win the case, one can imagine Monsanto will want to appeal,” he said, predicting a process that could take three to five years and end up in the Supreme Court, where they might face another challenge: Justice Clarence Thomas served as an attorney for Monsanto from 1976-1979 and has failed to recuse himself from other cases involving the corporation.
Gerritsen inspired by Occupy Wall Street
Meanwhile, Gerritsen is encouraged by the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement in putting a spotlight on inequity. “It is the new conscience of America,” he said. That’s why he made his first trip to New York City to let the Occupy protesters know that farmers are behind them. (Gerritsen appear 3:49-minutes into the video clip)
Genetically modified produce – “That’s not a healthy food ssyem.”
“I have not spoken to one farmer who doesn’t understand the message of Occupy Wall Street,” he told New York Times reporter Julia Moskin. “We have fifth- and sixth-generation farmers up where I live being pushed out of business, when all they want to do is grow good food. And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”
Source —Maine Organic Farmer Leads Fight Against Monsanto, by Kathryn Olmstead, Reader Supported News. Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her story about Jim Gerritsen originally appeared in the December 11, 2011 edition of the Bangor Daily News under the title Aroostook farmer the face of organic growers’ fight against Monsanto.
- A Band of 60 Davids Challenges Monsanto, the Goliath, in Federal Court, May 29, 2011, “According to Daniel Ben Ravicher (University of Virginia Law School, 2001), lead attorney in the case and the Public Patent Foundation’s Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Cardozo School of Law in New York City, ‘it seems quite perverse that a farmer contaminated by [transgenic seed] could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.’ ”
- Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto: The Story of a Canadian Farmer’s Fight to Defend the Rights of Farmers and the Future of Seeds, Democracy Now!, September 17, 2010, “Gathered here in Bonn this week are some eighty Right Livelihood Award laureates, including the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled the biotech giant Monsanto for years. When Monsanto seeds blew into Schmeiser’s property, Monsanto accused him of illegally planting their crops and took him to court. Ultimately his case landed in the Canadian Supreme Court. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1997 for fighting to defend the rights of farmers and the future of seeds.” (Includes video and transcript).
- How a British biologist blocked American corporations from exploiting human genome research for profit, “In a BBC Radio 4 interview on November 29, 2011, Sulston talked openly about his differences with American biologist and entrepreneur Craig Venter over who would “own” human genome data – the public or the private sector.”