Farmer John

Oral arguments in the case of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto will be heard this week in Washington, D.C.

Plaintiffs in the case—dozens of family farmers—are heading to the nation’s capital in order to attend the hearing, which will be held at the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on January 10, 2013. The plaintiffs are asking the court to provide protection from Monsanto’s patent rules. The District Court first denied the plaintiffs’ request last year.

The suit came about as many farmers claim they were forced to stop growing certain crops as contamination from nearby fields of genetically modified crops were making it too risky. Jim Gerritsen, President of lead Plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, said: “We are not customers of Monsanto. We don’t want their seed. We don’t want their gene-spliced technology. We don’t want their trespass onto our farms. We don’t want their contamination of our crops. We don’t want to have to defend ourselves from aggressive assertions of patent infringement because Monsanto refuses to keep their pollution on their side of the fence.  We want justice.”

Monsanto, the Missouri-based biotech and chemical company, is known for its aggressive legal pursuit of what it claims are “patent violations” over its GMO technology. Nearly 150 farmers have been sued by the multi-billion dollar company for these violations between 1997 and 2010—and some 700 have settled out of court—for violations, many of which, occur by no fault of the farmers in question. Crop drift is a major cause of cross-contamination, and despite non-GMO farmers’ best efforts to keep their crops free from GMO seeds, it is becoming increasingly more difficult as more than 80 percent of five major crops are genetically modified (corn, cotton, soy, canola and sugar beets).

The farmers, which have support from major food and farm advocacy groups aim to set a precedent that could help to bring more transparency to the highly-debated discussion on genetically modified foods.

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Image: Jessica Reeder