Slip-sliding around responsibility

September 2011

Photo © Greenpeace / Eric De Mildt
Over the years, Monsanto has repeatedly sued farmers alleging they have stolen the company's intellectual property by saving GM seed. The Company has admitted to filing lawsuits against farmers from 1997-2010, settling out of court with 700 others for an undisclosed amount. Because wind, animals and agricultural activity can spread pollen and seed, farmers are vulnerable to genetic pollution, followed by a crippling biotech law suit.

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has filed a complaint challenging Monsanto's patents on GM seed, which are the entire basis for its law suits.


PUBPAT has been joined by 83 plaintiffs comprising 35 organisations, 14 seed companies, and 33 farms and farmers. In all, amounting to over 4,000 co-plaintiffs, mainly with interests in organic agriculture. Every one of the plaintiffs is potentially liable to be sued by Monsanto. The class action is significant because, up until now, members of their community have been “picked off one by one” by Monsanto.

Their law suit is two-pronged. The practical objective is to take away Monsanto's ability to prosecute farmers for inadvertent contamination. The second, “holy grail” objective is to invalidate the patents Monsanto holds on seed. If the patents were invalidated, GM products would go away.

When the suit was first filed, Monsanto issued a statement saying it would not assert patent rights against farmers who suffered “trace” amounts of transgenic contamination.

In the hope that the matter could be resolved out of court, PUBPAT attorneys asked Monsanto to make this declaration legally binding, define what was meant by “trace” versus “significant” gene contamination. The Company's response was to roll out its “biggest legal cannon” who reversed the previous statement and asserted Monsanto's intention to make claims of patent infringement against organic farmers whose fields became contaminated.

Monsanto's earlier letter was, according to one co-plaintiff
“a completely empty, indefensible, and self-evident evasion that shows they are only interested in trying to spin propaganda and do not want to take serious steps to resolve the problem they have created for organic and non-transgenic agriculture”. The case against the company has now been reinforced by its intransigence, failure to act reasonably, failure to address concerns raised and avoidance of any constructive and socially acceptable response. The reality is that the on-going threats and law suits “seem to be an important part of their marketing strategy and business model they do not want to give up, despite their empty propaganda to the contrary.”
Monsanto seems to have the support of the US Government in this process of slip-sliding around any responsibility. The Company and Government have had long experience of this technique.

For example, take Agent Orange.

Starting in 1961 and continuing for a decade, Monsanto provided the US Government with the means to destroy huge swathes of vegetation in Vietnam: neither had any thought for the civilians, nor for the soil, crops, water or livestock on which those civilians depended, nor US and Vietnamese troupes on the ground, nor for future generations. Monsanto was raking in billions of tax-payer dollars, while the US Government was desperately trying to speed a conclusion to a war gone wrong.

At the time, Agent Orange caused death and deformity in thousand of children: three generations later, it continues to leave its crippling mark. The position of Monsanto is that it made legal sales of the chemical to the US Government and that, therefore, it bears no responsibility (it was the customer's fault for buying the goods). Successive US administrations, from Nixon to Obama, have never admitted responsibility and eventually joined a ten-year plan to put $10 million per year towards tackling the problem: this amount of money will not even clean up the 'hotspots' around US air-bases which handled the defoliant.

Monsanto in collaboration with Dow AgroSciences are currently seeking approval for GM crops resistant tot he herbicide, 2,4-D, one of the active ingredients in Agent Orange (see 2,4-D – EVERY BITE A KILLER – April 2011).

OUR COMMENT

Huge concerns have recently been raised over a suspected birth-defect risk from Roundup, the flagship herbicide for use with GM crops (see ROUNDUP CAUSES BIRTH DEFECTS – GMFS News Archive, October 2010). Adding Agent Orange into the mix can only be catastrophic.

But Monsanto and the US Government work very well together to slip-slide out of responsibility. If you choose to eat GM, don't expect any compensation. If your choice is not to eat GM, keep telling your representatives in government and your supermarket (you'll find both tend to have a short memory).

If you really need more convincing, check out the videos on the US Organic Consumers'Association YouTube channel.

SOURCES
  • Monsanto's Deadly legacy: Fifty Years of Birth Defects and Disabilities, Organic Consumers' Association Organic Bytes, #281, June 2011
  • Family Farmers Amplify Legal Complaint Against Monsanto's GMOs, Cornucopia News, 31.05.11
  • Len Aldis, Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, Finding justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, www.saigon-gpdaily.com.vn June 2011
  • Organic Farmers v. Monsanto, The Slow Food USA, June 2011
  • Farmers defend right to protect themselves from Monsanto patents, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Organization, 13.08.11, www.growswitch.com/blog/2011/07/270000-organic-farmers-sue-monsanto/


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