Carol Koury, owner of Asheville’s Sow True Seed, joined some 82 other farmers, advocacy groups and seed companies as part of a class-action lawsuit brought in federal court today, Jan. 31, in New York City. The Organic Seed Grower and Trade Association and others are taking on agricultural giant Monsanto, in a filing by the New York-based Public Patent Foundation. Koury and Sow True Seed staffer Cathryn Zommer traveled to New York to hear the opening oral arguments in what participants say is a groundbreaking food safety case against the bio-tech behemoth, Monsanto.
This morning, before the hearing, the two joined an assembly of citizens gathered in support of family farmers and seed companies that hope to counter Monsanto attorneys’ opening motion to dismiss the case as frivolous.
What’s at stake is anything but frivolous, say the growers participating in the lawsuit: At stake is the ability to provide high quality, open-pollinated and heirloom seeds. That task is becoming considerably more difficult, the growers say, with the rise of genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture, spear-headed by Monsanto.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of some 300,000 organic and non-GMO farmers seeking judicial relief, “protecting themselves from ever being accused of infringing patents on transgenic seed,” Zommer tells Xpress.
“Unlabeled and untested, pollen drifting from GE crops is a threat to the integrity of organic and non-genetically modified crops,” says Zommer. “This is in direct conflict with our right to produce and consume pure, natural food.”
To bring this message home, Zommer says, Sow True Seed has launched a petition drive that seeks to establish an agricultural conservation zone in Western North Carolina, free from genetically modified crops.
“The petition gives a voice to the overwhelming majority of people who support mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients in our food,” Zommer tells Xpress. Readers can sign the petition online or in person by visiting the Sow True Seed warehouse at 146 Church Street.
The complainants in the class action argue that in the past two decades, the seed monopoly staked out by Monsanto has grown so powerful that the company controls the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. The complainants say the result is increased costs to farmers in support of high-tech patent fees for seed, as well as burdensome litigation costs incurred in defending themselves against lawsuits brought against them by Monsanto.
The complainants further allege that organic and conventional farmers have been forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and 2010, they say, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents; another 700 such cases have been settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of the aggressive lawsuits, the growers say, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.