Victory for Organic Farmers: Court Rules Drifting Pesticides are Trespassers


The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled last month that chemical pesticides used by conventional farmers that cross property lines and contaminate neighboring organic farms could be considered trespassing, nuisance and negligence, entitling organic farmers to retributions.

Minnesota’s Star Tribune reports that improperly applied pesticides, which have been repeatedly drifting onto a Stearns County farm owned by Oluf Johnson, have had dire consequences on his organic crops. The damage caused by the chemical drift has rendered his products unsalable in the organic market. But, thanks to the new ruling from the State, the reckless use of chemicals entitles Johnson to recover damages from the company applying the chemicals to the nearby farms.

The Star Tribune also reports that a California farmer was recently awarded $1 million in damages from a fog of pesticides that drifted from a conventional farm and contaminated his entire season’s crop of organic herbs.

Pesticides, while not visible trespassers, constitute physical “particulate matter” with the ability to contaminate and cause damage to organic farms, the Minnesota ruling found. They have the ability to invade and destroy the “possessory rights of landowners,” creating a cause of action for trespass.

The timing of this ruling comes as toxic pesticides, largely Monsanto’s glyphosate Roundup, are being used in record numbers, with at least 70 percent of processed foods in U.S. supermarkets containing GM ingredients. 93 percent of soy, 86 percent of corn and 93 percent of cotton and canola planted in the U.S. in 2010, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, were genetically modified.

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Photo: kevindooley

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.