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Farmers' Day in Court

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Recently, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) began oral arguments in support of its lawsuit filed on behalf of 300,000 organic and non-GMO (genetically-modified organisms) farmers and citizens against genetic engineering giant, Monsanto. The suit is not for money; it's to seek judicial relief in "protect[ing] themselves from ever being accused of infringing patents on transgenic (GMO) seed."

Monsanto's seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90 percent of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets. This has resulted in onerous costs to farmers through high technology patent fees for seeds as well as burdensome litigation costs in defending themselves against lawsuits asserted by Monsanto, which has filed a motion to dismiss the current lawsuit.

This is ironic, considering how often Monsanto has sued farmers. From 1997 through April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents and/or breach of its license to those patents, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of these aggressive lawsuits, farmers live in fear of accidental cross-pollination of their fields by genetically-engineered crops. Monsanto has generated an atmosphere of fear and loathing in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy.

"I don't think it's fair that Monsanto should be able to sue my family for patent infringement because their transgenic seed trespasses onto our farm and contaminates and ruins our organic crop," testifies farmer Bryce Stephens of Kansas-based Stephen's Land and Cattle Co. "We have had to abandon raising corn because we are afraid Monsanto wouldn't control their genetic pollution and then they would come after us for patent infringement.

It's not right."

Some 200 million acres of the world's farms grew biotech crops last year, with many of these farms located next to or nearby organic farms. Genetically-modified organisms move around in the ecosystem through pollen, wind and natural cross-fertilization. The Union of Concerned Scientists conducted two separate independent laboratory tests on non-GM seeds "representing a substantial proportion of the traditional seed supply" for corn, soy and oilseed rape. The test found that half the corn and soy, and 83 percent of the oilseed rape were contaminated with GM genes, eight years after the GM varieties were first grown on a large scale in the U.S.

The reports states that "Heedlessly allowing the contamination of traditional plant varieties with genetically engineered sequences amounts to a huge wager on our ability to understand a complicated technology that manipulates life at the most elemental level." There could be serious health risks if drugs and industrial chemicals from the next generation of GM crops were consumed in food.

Some organic and conventional farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Jim Gerritsen, OSGATA President and owner of Wood Prairie Farm, in Maine states; "We are family farmers and we are in court to let the judge know that our survival as farmers depends on this lawsuit. We're not asking Monsanto for one penny. We just want justice for our farmers and we want court protection from Monsanto."

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at wallkillriverschool.com. To find out more about Shawn Dell Joyce and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM




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