March 29, 2011 / 8:20 PM / 9 years ago

Organic farmers sue, seek protection from Monsanto

* More than 50 organic farmers, seed dealers, others sue

* Plaintiffs seek protection from Monsanto’s patent claims

* Group says contamination a given as more GMOs approved

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Mo., March 29 (Reuters) - A consortium of U.S. organic farmers and seed dealers filed suit against global seed giant Monsanto Co. MON.N on Tuesday, in a move to protect themselves from what they see as a growing threat in the company’s arsenal of genetically modified crops.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed the suit on behalf of more than 50 organizations challenging the chemical giant’s patents on its genetically modified seeds. The group is seeking a ruling that would prohibit Monsanto from suing the farmers or dealers if their organic seed becomes contaminated with Monsanto’s patented biotech seed germplasm.

Monsanto is known for its zealous defense of its patents on a range of genetically altered crops. Its patented “Roundup Ready” soybeans, corn and cotton are favorites of U.S. farmers because of their ability to withstand herbicide treatments.

Monsanto officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

But Monsanto has filed scores of lawsuits and won judgments against farmers they claimed made use of their seed without paying required royalties. Many farmers have claimed that their fields were inadvertently contaminated without their knowledge, and the issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed.

“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s genetically modified seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, executive director of PUBPAT, a nonprofit legal services organization, which filed the suit in federal court in the southern district of New York.

The suit also alleges that Monsanto’s GMO seeds do more harm than good and claims the patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law.

“Some say genetically modified seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that’s not possible,” said Ravicher. “It’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.”

The suit claims that if plaintiffs do not intend to use the transgenic seed and their own seed is contaminated, Monsanto is committing a “trespass.”

“As nontransgenic seed farmers and seed sellers, Plaintiffs already have to deal with the constant threat of transgenic seed contamination that could destroy their chosen livelihood. They should not also have to live with the threat of being sued for patent infringement should that travesty come to pass,” the lawsuit states.

Monsanto’s genetically altered seeds have been a market mainstay since the mid-1990s, and many of its rivals have their own brands of biotech crops that tolerate herbicide, resist insects and have other useful qualities engineered into them.

Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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