March 29, 2011 / 11:50 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-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
 (adds comment from Monsanto)
 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
agricultural 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.
 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.
 Monsanto called the lawsuit misleading and a "publicity
stunt" and said it has never sued and has committed to never
suing farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology
traits in their fields.
 Legal precedent supports the validity of Monsanto patents,
the company said.
 "These efforts seek to reduce private and public investment
in the development of new higher-yielding seed technologies.
While we respect the views of organic farmers as it relates to
the products they choose to grow, we don't believe that
American agriculture faces an all-or-nothing approach,"
Monsanto said in a statement.
 Ravicher said co-existence is not possible for organics
alongside Monsanto's biotech crops and said it was in
Monsanto's financial interest to eliminate organic seed "so
that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply."
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.
 Organic and conventional farmers have always feared
contamination of their supplies by the biotech crops, and those
fears have grown as the U.S. government continues to approve
more biotech crops.
 In the last few months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
has cleared the way for biotech sugar beets, alfalfa, and a new
type of biotech corn developed for use in ethanol.
 Plaintiffs in the suit include 22 agricultural
associations, 12 seed businesses and 26 farms and farmers from
around the United States.
  (Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and
Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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