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Thursday, Jan 10, 2013, 5:00 am

Farmers vs. Monsanto, Round 2

By Rebecca Burns

Dozens of small farmers and their supporters have traveled to Washington, DC today to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals to reinstate a class-action lawsuit against biotech giant Monsanto.

The landmark suit, first filed in March 2011 by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, challenges the validity of 23 Monsanto patents. Claimants say that the move is needed to protect farmers whose seeds become contaminated by Monsanto-patented seeds from lawsuits for infringement.

Though Monsanto has painted the lawsuit as “a transparent effort by plaintiffs to create a controversy where none exists,” it acknowledges elsewhere that it has filed suit more than 145 times against farmers accused of using its patented seed varieties. Monsanto owns the patents to ninety percent of genetically modified crops and, according to a 2005 report from the Center for Food Safety, the company has a staff of 75 and a budget of $10 million devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. 

The case was dismissed in February 2012 by a federal judge who ruled that the farmers lacked standing. Attorney Dan Ravicher of the not-for-profit Public Patent Foundation, which is prosecuting the case, said in a statement, “The District Court erred when it denied the organic seed plaintiffs the right to seek protection from Monsanto’s patents.”

The legal challenge comes as Monsanto is reporting that sales in its most recent quarter more than doubled. Though this growth is spurred by an expanding market for biotech corn seeds in Latin America, the company is also facing pushback in that region. In June 2012, Times of India reported on an important victory for five million Brazilian farmers who filed suit against Monsanto for collecting royalties for “renewal” seed harvests:

The farmers are claiming that the powerful company has unfairly extracted these royalties from poor farmers because they were using seeds produced from crops grown from Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds, reports Merco Press.

In April this year, a judge in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, ruled in favor of the farmers and ordered Monsanto to return royalties paid since 2004 or a minimum of $2 billion. … Monsanto has appealed against the order and a federal court ruling on the case is now expected by 2014.

Supporters and food justice activists will hold a “citizen’s assembly” as oral arguments are heard in court today. “It’s time to end Monsanto’s campaign of fear against America’s farmers and stand up for farmers’ right to grow our food without legal threats and intimidation,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!

Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

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