In a landmark court decision American farmers now have the right to sue Monsanto in cases of Genetically Engineered (GE) contamination of their crops without the fear of a countersuit by Monsanto for patent infringement. This historic protection came after a two year battle when OSGATA (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association) filed their 2011 lawsuit against Monsanto, known as OSGATA et al v Monsanto.
The lead plaintiff in the case, Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm in Maine, provides some background on their Monsanto lawsuit.
The following is a letter to the Justice Begins with Seeds Conference, written by Jim Gerritsen, explaining how the decision was made by the court and what it means for American farmers.
Dear friends of the Justice Begins with Seeds Conference,
The demands of our farming in Maine prevent me from being with you today. We do join you in the belief that justice is necessary for lasting change, most especially as it relates to seed.
We make our living growing organic seed. We have been farming organically on our Wood Prairie Farm in Maine for 37 years. We live and follow the belief that everyone in the organic community has an obligation to help grow and protect our community.
I would like to update you on two important recent developments which I am involved with.
I serve as President of the national membership organization, OSGATA – the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. We are lead Plaintiff in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto, a landmark federal lawsuit filed in March 2011 which challenges the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents and seeks Court protection for family farmers who through no fault of their own may become contaminated by Monsanto’s patented seed technology and then – perversely – be accused of patent infringement. Monsanto has sought to deny our access to the Court by asserting legal arguments that we lack standing. We have not yet been given the opportunity to present our lawsuit’s legal arguments. We feel we have a strong case.
In June, the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC, issued a complicated ruling on our Appeal of Dismissal. The three-judge Appeals Court upheld dismissal of OSGATA v Monsanto. However, the ruling provided a significant partial victory for us, when the Court ordered Monsanto, through estoppal, to NOT sue farmers for patent infringement should they encounter trace GE contamination. The estoppel protects EVERY farmer in the United States – not just those in our Plaintiff group.
So American farmers for the first time in history have gained a new critical legal protection. As a result, farmers now may choose to sue Monsanto to recover damages in a contamination incident without the fear of being inflicted with a counter suit asserting patent infringement.
The second update I want to provide is about Right-to-Know GMO labeling in New England. California Prop 37 laid an important foundation which New England has built upon. Connecticut passed the nation’s first Right-to-Know GMO Label law in June. Maine followed in short order. We expect Vermont to pass their GMO label law next January and after that, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
In Maine, we built a successful coalition of Tea Party Republicans and Democrats to pass our GMO label bill. A statewide poll showed 91% of Mainers favored passing a GMO label law. Out of our legislative body of 186 members, we had 123 co-sponsors to our bill. Maine’s effective grassroots campaign resulted in significant tallies. In the end the Maine House voted for passage 141-4 and the Maine Senate 35-0. Our Tea Party Governor Paul LePage has promised he will sign the bill into law when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
When it comes to fighting GE crops there is work ahead of us. But we have momentum on our side and that fact will help you pass Washington’s I-522 initiative.
Wood Prairie Farm, Bridgewater, Maine