On Mar. 2, a case brought against biotech corporation Monsanto by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association - plus 82 other plaintiffs representing around 300,000 farmers - was dismissed, striking a considerable blow to the cause of small farmers.
The plaintiffs had sought a judgment to stop Monsanto from suing them for growing crops containing genes patented by the company. The genes enter crops via cross contamination from wind and other sources.
Monsanto, they say, has reneged on assurances it gave not to sue in cases where patented genes were acquired inadvertently.
U.S. Federal District Judge Naomi Buchwald threw out OSGATA's case, calling its claims "unsubstantiated," and charging that the plaintiffs had exaggerated the magnitude of Monsanto's patent enforcement.
Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, disagreed with that ruling. "Beyond whatever happens with the suit," he said, "there are some very legitimate issues behind it. There is already a significant burden [present] to organic food production, and there is more coming. It raises the question: is it possible for organic agriculture to survive in the face of genetically modified crops?"
The farmers on Friday were dissatisfied with Buchwald's ruling. "We're Americans," said Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer and president of OSGATA. "We believe in the system. But we're disappointed in the judge."
Critics of Monsanto note that the corporation has taken nearly every measure possible to stamp out small farmers and dominate the agricultural industry. They have reportedly gone so far as to rely on private investigators, who secretly videotape and photograph farmers, posing as surveyors. Others have been said to confront farmers and try and persuade them to sign papers that would give Monsanto access to their private records.
Farmers have referred to the company's henchmen as "the seed police."
Monsanto recently came out of court with a loss under its belt, after a court in southern France found the company guilty of poisoning cereal farmer Paul Francois, who was hit in the face with fumes from a Monsanto product, subsequently suffering irreversible neurological damage.
Gerritsen noted that this is not over, and that the farmers he represents will organize and continue to fight on.
"The situation that brought us to court [in the first place] is still there. Farmers need the protection of the court. We filed a completely legitimate lawsuit under the Declaratory Judgment Act. We do understand that we have the right to appeal. And that is already underway; the discussions have already begun."
Photos: Monsanto, the world's largest seed maker, have repeatedly harrassed and sued farmers. James A. Finley/AP Photos