Maine farmers get a second chance to win court war with Monsanto

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: farmers, Monsanto, appeals court

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(NaturalNews) Farmers in Maine will have another shot at agri-business giant Monsanto when a federal appeals court agreed to hear a lawsuit they filed after it had been dismissed by a lower court earlier this year.

The suit was filed by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, an agricultural group based in Washington, Maine, against St. Louis-based Monsanto and is slated to be heard Jan. 10, 2013, at the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., court documents said.

The organic seed growers association, as well as 82 additional plaintiffs, sued Monsanto in March 2011 in federal district court in New York over the validity of a number of patents the agri-giant holds for genetically modified crops, the Bangor Daily News reported recently.

'Numerous legal and factual errors'

In addition, the group is seeking protection from lawsuits in case Monsanto's GM seeds inadvertently contaminate their crops via natural causes like seed drift and cross pollination, the paper said.

Despite their claims; however, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald in February dismissed the suit before it even went to trial, ruling that plaintiffs' claims of fearing patent infringement lawsuits from Monsanto were not reasonable, adding that "these circumstances do not amount to a substantial controversy and that there has been no injury traceable to defendants."

But Jim Gerritsen, a seed potato farmer who is president of the Organic Seed Growers Association, told the paper the judge made "numerous legal and factual errors" in deciding the case.

Bringing the case before the federal appeals court will give plaintiffs - represented pro bono by the nonprofit Public Patent Foundation - a second chance to explain to the three-judge panel how "reversible errors were committed" and why the cause should be permitted to continue, Gerritsen said.

In addition to the association's rebuttals, the appellate court judges will also consider a pair of amicus briefs, one by 11 law professors and the other by 14 nonprofit consumer food and safety nonprofits, which were filed in support of the position taken by the association.

Gerritsen said two of the three judges needed to side with his association in order to send the case back to the lower court.

"We hope we are given a fair hearing by honorable judges that will take [Judge Buchwald's] ruling, critique it and put it on a level field," he told the paper.

Gerritsen said the case was vitally important because it has implications regarding a farmer's ability to farm how they want without living in fear of being targeted by a huge agri-giant like Monsanto, which he says has a 75-person in-house legal team that cannot be matched by independent farmers. Gerritsen said Monsanto has sued farmers 144 times, "and in each and every one they make the farmer out to be the villain."

Second chance to get it right

"The fact is we are all at jeopardy, our livelihoods are at stake," he said, noting that Monsanto's history is that of intimidating and suing farms where GM crops have shown up.

"If Monsanto can gain ownership of our crops when they contaminate them, how can we possibly continue farming?" Gerritsen said.

As is usually the case, Monsanto says it's blameless and that it is not its policy "to exercise [their] patent rights where trace amounts of [their] see or traits are present in [a] farmer's fields as a result of inadvertent means," court documents said, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The paper said the 83 plaintiffs consist of independent farmers, seed companies and agricultural associations around the nation. Gerritsen said the plaintiffs represent about 300,000 people and some 25 percent of all certified organic farms in the U.S. and Canada.

Gerritsen said now that another court date has been scheduled, he is working to reestablish a fund to help compensate them financially for having to travel to attend the court hearings.

"Farmers in general don't get away from their farms, so we will need all this time to just prepare a plan so the farmers can get away and travel to Washington, D.C.," Gerritsen said.


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