New York City is not a place one normally expects to see farmers. But on Tuesday, Manhattan’s Foley Square was a gathering place for scores of farmers and their supporters who are protesting lawsuits by U.S. agribusiness giant, the Monsanto Company.
A group of small farmers and activists gathered outside federal district court in New York to show support for the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. The 270,000 member trade group has filed a class action law suit against Monsanto, which manufactures most of the world’s genetically modified seeds and pollens.
The group is petitioning the court to prevent the company from suing association members for patent infringement if its genetically modified plants are found on its members’ farms.
In a written statement, Monsanto spokesman Thomas Helscher said "Monsanto never has and never will sue a farmer if our patented seed or traits are found in his field as a result of inadvertent means.”
But Gianni Ortiz, founder and director of FarmAssist Productions, a nonprofit advocacy group for small farms, says she is aware of nearly 900 court cases in which Monsanto won damages from farmers because their crops contained plants grown from its genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Ortiz says that one case Monsanto did not win involved a non-organic Canadian farmer. “There was truckload of GMO seed going from ’Point A’ to ‘Point B.’ The tarp came off the top of the truck and their seed blew into his field, and they went after him for years. They are very aggressive," she said.
Ortiz does not deny that Monsanto products have been used illegally by some farmers, but she says organic farmers have a compelling financial reason not to do so.
“This group of farmers, they clearly do not want anything to do with their genes, their [i.e., Monsanto's] pollens [and] their seeds because they will lose their certification. So if they do wind up being contaminated, they are the ones who should be collecting damages, not Monsanto," she said.
Advocates for organic farmers in the Monsanto case call the lawsuit a “David versus Goliath” issue. If so, Monsanto is a Goliath that is choosing its battles. In Tuesday's hearing, Monsanto sought to have the case dismissed.