Monday, December 5, 2011

Meatless Monday: Taking on Monsanto

Big, greedy, strong-arming, corporate bully. That’s pretty much the image I had of Monsanto after watching King Corn and Food, Inc.,  both of which paint Monsanto as a chemical company with the goal of cornering the market for seeds of corn, soybeans, and other commodity crops and willing to to shut down anyone who gets in the way — small farmers who do not want to buy Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) Roundup-ready seeds, organic farmers, and those who make a living harvesting or selling seeds. My opinion changed for the worse after hearing patent attorney Dan Ravicher’s October 26 talk at the Yale Law School: "Suing Monsanto: Intellectual Property, Genetic Contamination, and Farmers' Rights.” 

I am not a lawyer. I have to confess that although I had heard of this suit, I was unaware of its particulars. Dan Ravicher is leading a preemptive suit by organic seed growers, farmers, and farmer organizations to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers or seed producers should their crops become contaminated by Monsanto’s patented seeds. The suit, filed in March of 2011, is titled organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto. The CT chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (CTNOFA) is one of the plaintiffs.

The 80+ parties in the suit are requesting that Monsanto sign a simple covenant not to sue. Although Monsanto has stated that they would not sue farmers who were “inadvertently” contaminated or farmers whose crops contain “trace amounts” of GMO, they have refused to sign such a covenant that would bring an effective end to the lawsuit. Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss, and in August the plaintiffs, with the support of 12 agricultural organizations, filed a brief in opposition to the motion. 

Ravicher walked us through the reasoning behind the suit and the four grounds for the suit. All of this material is well summarized in a post by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, another of the plaintiffs.  Ravicher emphasized and the post re-iterated that if any of the four grounds is proven, it should be sufficient to cause the court to issue a judgement against Monsanto. 

Such a judgment would be a welcome bit of good news for small farmers. Food Democracy Now writes that “Monsanto controls more than 93% of soybeans and 80% of corn grown in the U.S.” 

Ravicher did offer up some hope that the tide is beginning to turn against Monsanto. GMO seed is expensive, and after several years of planting it, life in the soil begins to die off, leading to lower crop yields. He spoke of a surge of interest among farmers to wean themselves from the Monsanto seeds.

It seems appropriate to be writing this post on the day of the planned Occupy Wall Street Farmers March. According to the Food Democracy Now blog, family farmers from around the country will march to Zuccotti Park on December 4th, in a “celebration of community power to regain control over the most basic element to human well-being: food.”  One of the scheduled speakers is organic farmer Jim Gerritsen of Maine, president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the lead plaintiff in the suit against Monsanto. If all goes as planned, the day will end with a circle of solidarity and seed swap in the park. 

A New York Times blog profiled Jim Gerritsen in a post titled: “A Maine Farmer Speaks to Wall Street,” which you can read here

Eddie C covered the day's events with words and abundant images on the Daily Kos. The National Young Farmers' Coalition was a visible presence in a number of the photos. Speakers spoke. Farmers and friends marched. Drummers drummed. Great signs and banners were everywhere. And, at the march's end in Zuccotti Park, seeds were exchanged. Eddie C wrote, “Free seeds were handed out, heirloom seeds and seeds that were cross pollinated by farmers, anything but the patented property of some major corporation.”

Take that, Monsanto.

Have a great week, and stop by again soon.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Here's a link to an NY Times pieces about the Occupy Wall Street Farmer's March held last Sunday.
    Jim Gerritsen
    Wood Prairie Farm
    Bridgewater, Maine

  2. Thanks Jim. I just updated the piece with a link to Eddie C's post in the Daily Kos.

  3. And now I have added the link to your story. Thanks again for the comment and for your good work.