Organic growers lose decision in suit versus Monsanto over seeds

Mon Jun 10, 2013 3:41pm EDT

Related Topics

(Reuters) - Monsanto Co. on Monday won another round in a legal battle with U.S. organic growers as an appeals court threw out the growers' efforts to stop the company from suing farmers if traces of its patented biotech genes are found in crops.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a previous ruling that found organic growers had no reason to try to block Monsanto from suing them as the company had pledged it would not take them to court if biotech crops accidentally mix in with organics.

Organic farmers and others have worried for years that they will be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement if their crops get contaminated with Monsanto biotech crops.

In its ruling Monday, the appellate court said the organic growers must rely on Monsanto assurances on the company's website that it will not sue them so long as the mix is very slight.

"Monsanto's binding representations remove any risk of suit against the appellants as users or sellers of trace amounts (less than one percent) of modified seed," the court stated in its ruling.

Monsanto officials applauded the ruling.

"The assertion that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement against farmers that have no interest in using the company's patented seed technology was hypothetical from the outset," the company said in a statement issued Monday.

Monsanto has developed a reputation for zealously defending patents on its genetically altered crops, which include patented "Roundup Ready" soybeans, corn and cotton, genetically altered to tolerate treatments of its Roundup weedkiller.

The crops are widely used in the United States and Latin America. It has proven difficult to keep the genetic alteration from contaminating non-biotech crops, as recently occurred in a wheat field in the U.S. state of Oregon.

The group of more than 50 organic farmers and seed dealers sued Monsanto in March 2011 seeking to prohibit Monsanto from suing them if their seed and crops become contaminated.

Monsanto officials specifically refused to sign a covenant stating it would not sue the growers, but the court said the website statement was sufficient and would be binding.

Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, which joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the decision made no sense.

"It is a very bizarre ruling that relies on a paragraph on a website," he said. "It is a very real threat to American farmers. This is definitely appealable."

In its ruling Monday, the court noted that records indicate a large majority of conventional seed samples have become contaminated by Monsanto's Roundup resistance trait.

Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties.

Many U.S. farmers have said their fields were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto's biotech seeds without their knowledge. The issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed.

(Reporting By Carey Gillam; editing by Andrew Hay)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (15)
LH56 wrote:
Just how many politicians and Judges does Monsanto have on their payroll?

Jun 10, 2013 5:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Rodriguez1 wrote:
Basically Monsanto is contaminating the earth’s natural species with their ‘patented genes’. Is this legal? Even if it is, it seems crazy that any company can alter a crop, put it out in the open and then when that crop cross-pollinates with the one next door claim that it’s the other guys fault. Seems to me that Monsanto should be the one getting sued here.

Jun 10, 2013 5:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Historyrepeat wrote:
Might I point out that the first lawsuit Monsanto made was because one of their trucks ran off the road and the seeds were carried by the wind into the farmer’s field. Monsanto sued and won.
I think their needs to be some investigation into how Monsanto’s trucks are transporting their seeds and where their trucks “supposedly” break down or run off the road.

Jun 10, 2013 9:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

How to get out of debt

Financial adviser Eric Brotman offers strategies for cutting debt from student loans and elder care -- and how to avoid money woes in the first place.  Video