BY JEREMY MOULE
Monsanto is infamously litigious when it comes to protecting its seed patents. So much so that some farmers and agriculture groups are afraid the company will start suing farmers whose fields become unintentionally contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops.
Earlier this year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit aimed at preventing Monsanto from suing the farmers. But the plaintiffs, including Rochester-based Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, are appealing that ruling in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Last week, a group of legal scholars submitted supporting briefs, as did a collection of agricultural and environmental organizations.
“We’re asking Monsanto to be responsible for their product and not to place the blame on innocent farmers,” says Kate Mendenhall, NOFA-NY’s executive director.
Farmers buying seeds from Monsanto are essentially agreeing to a one-year license to use the seed technology. On its website, Monsanto compares unlicensed use of its products to software piracy.
The farmers in the lawsuit argue that they don’t want to use the company’s products. Organic farmers can lose markets for their crops if their fields are contaminated by genetically engineered crops, Mendenhall says. But the issue goes beyond that. Pollen can drift from Monsanto-patented plants onto non-genetically-modified plants. If a farmer saves and plants seeds resulting from that pollination, Monsanto could sue for patent infringement.
The lawsuit was filed after the US Department of Agriculture approved Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa seeds for sale and planting. Alfalfa is a perennial crop that spreads easily, and it’s widely used as livestock feed by New York dairy farmers.