Local organic seed growers take on Monsanto in federal court

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.

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6 thoughts on “Local organic seed growers take on Monsanto in federal court

  1. Matthew Burd

    I for one believe that the patent should be done away with entirely. It is inherently flawed in that it stifles the ability of industry and humanity to maximize our full potential. Monsanto should be shut down not fot its terrible practices in sueing farmers, but instead for not being able to control the viral nature of its products infecting superior quality crops. If I found that a GMO had made its way into my Organic crop (which would then make it none organic) I would want the right to sue over damage to my personal property.

    ~End rant

  2. DeVonna

    Monsanto has been polluting our environment and food for years. 40 years ago, we were not as aware of the dangers of toxic waste, food additives… as we are today. We have quick access to information and ways to verify if the information is true.
    Bottom line is, we are no longer blind consumers. We are informed consumers and informed voters. We have the right to have organic food available to us. Monsanto is violating our rights as well as the rights of the Organic farmers.

  3. Donald Silva

    It’s about time people got together to take them to task for their unethical business practices, the pursuit of monopoly and their utter disregard for the welfare of their consumers. Hopefully this will set a precedent so farmers who want to grow organic crops can do so w/out threat or hinderance from a heartless corporation.

  4. Charlotte Pitts

    The American public wants no more Frankenfood. Hoping and praying that the good people win this lawsuit against Monsanto, one of the greatest enemies of the people in our country.

  5. Primal Eater

    Easy solution: STARVE the Beast. Stop growing any crops and let the weeds grow. Put livestock on pasture and let them graze. Eat the meat, eggs, dairy, etc. Consumers will get healthier omega 3 fatty acids and heal from obesity, mental illness, and auto-immune disorders. Check out the Weston A. Price Foundation for nutritional healing.

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