The lawsuit - filed in 2011 - sought to block Monsanto from suing organic farmers and seed sellers in case their crops inadvertently were found to have traces of the biotech giant’s genetically engineered products.
They further alleged that they must take costly precautions to avoid contamination, such as testing seeds for transgenic traits and creating “buffer” zones between their farms and those of neighbors growing modified crops. They also contended that if they do not take these precautions, their crops would be contaminated, and they would be sued for patent infringement by Monsanto.
And while Monsanto had not to date threatened suit against them, it had a history of taking legal action against growers and sellers, they added.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington dismissed the suit on Monday (click here), but said Monsanto had given "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”.
Monsanto: We won’t take legal action vs growers over inadvertent contamination
The plaintiffs had sought declaratory judgments of non-infringement and invalidity with respect to 23 Monsanto patents. However, they had “not alleged any circumstances placing them beyond the scope of [Monsanto's binding] assurances”, said the court. “[Therefore] there is no justiciable case or controversy.”
The farmers’ attorney, Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation, was quoted by Bloomberg welcoming the decision: “Before this suit, the Organic Seed plaintiffs were forced to take expensive precautions and avoid full use of their land in order to not be falsely accused of patent infringement by Monsanto.
“Now that Monsanto has bound itself to not suing the plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals believes the suit should not move forward.”
However, the decision still leaves organic farmers in trouble if GM contamination disqualifies their crops from organic and other specialty market certification, said some commentators.
On its website (click here), Monsanto says 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.”
Biotech wheat latest
Separately, Monsanto is facing fresh lawsuits over claims it failed to take appropriate steps to prevent such a contamination after an experimental wheat variety was found in an Oregon field.
In a statement on its website, the company said: “Monsanto is taking the matter seriously and is cooperating with the USDA fully. We are conducting a rigorous investigation to validate the scope of and to address any presence of a Monsanto Roundup Ready trait in wheat.”
Japan and South Korea suspended some U.S. wheat purchases after the discovery was made.
Click here to read the appeals court opinion in full.
Click here for more on the Oregon wheat case.