The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal filed by Maine farmers in a “pre-emptive lawsuit” against Monsanto that would have protected American and Canadian farmers from patent infringement lawsuits if their fields were ever accidentally contaminated by the biotech giant’s genetically-modified, patented seeds.
Dave Murphy, executive director of Food Democracy Now, an Iowa-based advocacy group that had joined Maine farmers in the suit, called the ruling “a great disappointment and a betrayal of the trust of America’s farmers and farmers all around the world.”
“It’s really an outrage that farmers cannot even get a day in court in America to protect themselves from the direct contamination and economic ruin of their crops and their livelihood from Monsanto’s patented, genetically engineered seeds,” Murphy said.
Jim Gerritsen, a potato seed farmer from Bridgewater who is president of the Maine-based Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which filed the original suit in 2011, was out of town and unavailable for comment Monday.
But he acknowledged last fall that the chances of the case being heard by the Supreme Court were small.
Gerritsen’s group was joined in the case by a group of 83 American and Canadian organic and conventional family farmers, seed businesses and public advocacy groups around the country, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity and Fedco Seeds in Clinton.
Gerritsen said in a news release that the Supreme Court had “failed to grasp the extreme predicament family farmers find themselves in.”
Farmers who were part of the lawsuit argued that if their crops are inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto’s genetically-modified seed, that would open them up to charges of patent infringement and ruin their crops for export to countries where GMOs have been banned.
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., sided with Monsanto, saying the farmers did have standing with the court, but Monsanto’s promises not to sue for patent infringement made their case moot.
The three justices who heard the case also ordered Monsanto not to sue farmers whose fields were contaminated with trace amounts of genetically-modified material.
The court defined trace amounts as 1 percent.
Gerritsen called that safeguard “insufficient to protect our farms and our families.”
According to Reuters, a Monsanto attorney said the company did not plan to sue for inadvertent use of its biotech seeds, but that it would not make a blanket promise to that effect.
“Monsanto never has and has committed it never will sue if our patented seed or traits are found in a farmer’s field as a result of inadvertent means,” said Kyle McClain, the company’s chief litigation counsel.
“The lower courts agreed there was no controversy between the parties, and the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the case brings closure on this matter.”
Murphy said the plaintiffs may regroup and try again.
“We can certainly refile a case, change some of the farmers that are associated with it,” he said.
“This case did not have any farmers initially that had been contaminated with GMOs because we wanted it to be a pre-emptive effort to protect farmers from contamination and make sure that their economic interest in their farms and their organic seed stock was not harmed.”
Murphy said they would also continue to try to change the existing regulations governing GMOs at the state and federal level.
Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: