On January 31, 2012, a hearing on GMO's was held in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. On the evening news you often times see convicted former Wall Street financiers walking out of the doors of this courthouse in New York City. This court is the setting for a major legal battle which will impact all grain farmers in the United States.
The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association squared off against Monsanto.
The case, at the moment, goes off on a legal issue of whether the organic farmers have standing to bring a declaratory judgment action against Monsanto. Simply, the question is whether the organic farmers have suffered harm which allows them to get their case before a court for a possible trial.
The case involves 96 plaintiffs claiming that "Society stands on the precipice of forever being bound to transgenic agriculture and transgenic food. Coexistence between transgenic seed and organic seed is impossible because transgenic seed contaminates and eventually overcomes organic seed."
Plaintiff's complaint filed in June, 2011, claims "…transgenic seed, and in particular Monsanto's transgenic seed, is 'injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society' and threatens to 'poison people,' [and] Monsanto's transgenic seed patents are all invalid." (No question about their position!)
On January 31 the Plaintiffs argued they are afraid of Monsanto suing plaintiffs for patent infringement. The argument being if there is drift of GMO pollen onto organic crops and the organic crop is contaminated, allegedly, Monsanto will sue for patent infringement. The organic farmers believe that Monsanto harasses farmers and in its complaint, claims that Monsanto has sued over 144 farmers for patent infringement.
Monsanto's counsel stated on numerous occasions during the argument that Monsanto has never suggested to the organic producers that it would enforce patent rights against them. Counsel argued "The company has never brought legal action against an inadvertent – against somebody who didn't want to make use of the traits that are manifested in our transgenic products..."
The complaint in 163 paragraphs reads like a horror show involving the dangers of GMO seeds. "The Prince of Whales (sic) said it quite clearly, 'And if they think its somehow going to work because they are going to have one form of clever genetic engineering after another then again count me out, because that will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time."
The brief in Paragraph 113 claims that Monsanto's transgenic seed has the potential to create severe negative health effects. In fact, the brief claims Monsanto's glyphosate or as we producers know it Roundup is harmful to human health and cites a 2005 study that concludes there are endocrine and toxic effects of Roundup on mammals.
Paragraph 114 claims there are studies suggesting an association between the use of Roundup and the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Further the brief alleges a study shows that from a 50,000 person sample of pesticide applicators there is a "suggested" link between glyphosate use and multiple myeloma.
In Paragraph 115 of the complaint, Plaintiffs cite a study suggesting that there is an association between glyphosate use and animal miscarriages.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit make it very clear they do not want to use or sell transgenic or GMO seeds. So in order to get into court, the plaintiffs are using a declaratory judgment action which claims they fear Monsanto will sue them but the real goal is, as they say in their first claim for relief, that each of Monsanto's patents, which are listed in the complaint, are invalid because each patent is either "prior art" or that each patent is invalid because it fails to satisfy requirements of the United States Code. In plain English, plaintiffs are seeking to destroy the patents that Monsanto has developed in providing transgenic seeds to the farmers of the world.
Plaintiffs in this case represent a broad array of organic and conventional producers. There are thirty-six agriculture and food safety organizations, fourteen seed businesses, and thirty-three farms and farmers.
Plaintiffs include Center for Food Safety ("CFS"), a Washington, DC nonprofit environmental advocacy which was established in 1997 to challenge harmful food production technologies. CFS claims it is the leading public interest organization litigating the harmful environmental and socioeconomic impacts of genetically engineered crops. Beyond Pesticides, Inc. which claims to protect public health and the environment and runs a clearing house for information on the hazards of genetically modified organisms.
The lead plaintiff is an organic farmer from Maine who has lead "the farmers' march" to Zuccotti Park in support of the Food Justice Committee of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He claims support from President Obama who he says has "…promised mandatory labeling of genetically modified products and we must hold him to that."
The transcript of the U.S. District Court hearing on January 31 suggests to me as a trial lawyer that the case will be dismissed. If not, it will be a case all of you will be hearing about in 2012.