Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Monsanto by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) and 82 other plaintiffs after the biotech giant made binding assurances that it will not sue organic farmers if the company’s genetically engineered (GE) seeds contaminate their fields.
The case, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto, was originally in March 2011 by organic farmers, seed growers, and agricultural organizations representing more than 300,000 farmers. The lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs to seek protection for farmers whose fields can become contaminated by Monsanto’s GE seed and then be sued by the company for patent infringement.
In the ruling issued yesterday the Court of Appeals judges affirmed the Southern District of New York’s previous decision. The lower Court ruled that the plaintiffs did not present a sufficient controversy to warrant adjudication, given that throughout the lawsuit Monsanto “made binding assurances that it will not take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), views the decision as a partial victory.
“The decision means that the farmers did have the right to bring the suit to protect themselves, but now that Monsanto has bound itself to not suing the plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals believes the suit should not move forward,” Ravicher said. “The decision also allows farmers who are contaminated to sue Monsanto and Monsanto’s customers for the harm caused by that contamination without fear of a retaliation patent infringement claim.”
The plaintiffs’ complaint detailed Monsanto’s history of aggressive patent enforcement and detailed the societal harms caused by Monsanto’s GE seed, including the proliferation of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” and the increased use of pesticides which are applied to “Roundup-ready” crops. The plaintiffs also argued the legality of Monsanto’s patents.
“OEFFA members and farmers across the United States undertook this action because of legitimate concerns about Monsanto’s overreaching protection of their patents. We’re encouraged by the Court’s determination that Monsanto does not have the right to sue farmers for trace contamination,” said Carol Goland, OEFFA’s Executive Director. “However, we are disappointed that the courts have not taken action to protect our food supply from the continued proliferation of Monsanto’s GE technology.”
Despite the Court of Appeals’ decision, plaintiffs still have the option to ask the Supreme Court to review the decision and reinstate the case. Plaintiffs have 90 days to request a Supreme Court review.