PUBPAT has filed the suit in the southern district of New York on behalf of about 60 farmers, seed and organic organizations, which claim that Monsanto has sued farmers in the United States and Canada in the past after its patented genetic material has inadvertently contaminated non-genetically modified (GM) crops.
PUBPAT’s executive director Dan Ravicher said: “This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed or pollen should land on their property. It seems quite perverse that an organic 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.”
The case asks that organic farmers be protected from being sued for patent infringement if their crops should accidentally become contaminated with GM materials.
However, in an emailed statement, Monsanto disputed the allegations, saying that many of them are “false, misleading and deceptive”, and calling the lawsuit a “publicity stunt”.
“Monsanto has not ever sued and has publically committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields,” the company said.
Monsanto also said that it rejects plaintiffs’ allegations regarding patent validity, saying that legal precedent supports the validity of its patents.
"These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies. While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to the products they choose to grow, we don't believe that American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach," the company said.
Ravicher said that it is not possible for organic seed to co-exist with Monsanto’s GM seed and that it is in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so the company can have “a total monopoly over our food supply”.
Anti-GM groups have argued that the long term impact of genetically modified crops on the environment, human and animal health is not well known, and may not be for decades. And organic advocates have also argued that cross-contamination of organic crops with GM material could devastate their industry.
Tensions over co-existence of GM and non-GM seed have intensified in recent months, as the US Department of Agriculture has continued to approve GM crops, including alfalfa, sugar beets and a type of corn intended for ethanol use.
Global area planted with biotech crops increased by 10 percent last year to reach 148m hectares, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. Commercial planting of GM crops began in 1996, with 1.7m hectares planted that year, and over 15 years of cultivation, the total area devoted to GM crops has increased 87-fold.
The United States still uses more GM seeds than any other country.