Organic seed potato farmer Jim Gerritsen heads a trade association that is suing chemical giant Monsanto.
Photo by Charlotte Hedley
A fight to maintain consumer choice and farm independence has landed Maine farmer Jim Gerritsen on Utne Reader's list of "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World," published in the November/December edition of the magazine on newsstands now.
Gerritsen, wife Megan, and their four children run the Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, which produces and sells organic seed potatoes to kitchen gardeners and market farmers in all 50 states. Gerritsen is also president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and it was that role that led to the Utne recognition.
The nonprofit organization created a stir in food and farming communities when, with legal backing from the Public Patent Foundation, it filed a lawsuit in March against the chemical and biotechnology giant Monsanto. OSGATA has since been joined in the lawsuit by 82 other seed businesses, trade organizations and family farmers, which together represent more than 270,000 people.
The lawsuit questions the validity of Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seeds, and seeks protection from patent-infringement lawsuits for the plaintiffs should their crops become contaminated with Monsanto's transgenic crops.
"The viewpoint of Monsanto is that (in such a situation) we have their technology, even though we don't want it and it has zero value in the organic market," Gerritsen said. "We think they should keep their pollution on their side of the fence."
Laws prohibit certified organic crops from containing genetically modified ingredients, and Monsanto's patents prohibit farmers from growing its seeds unless purchased from the company. Yet pollen doesn't heed certification or patent laws, and regularly drifts from transgenic crops to contaminate nearby non-genetically altered ones.
To add insult to injury, Monsanto has a reputation for suing or threatening to sue farmers for patent infringement in cases involving its genetically altered seeds, action reported in numerous media outlets as wide ranging as the Columbia Daily Tribune, CBS News and the New York Times.
Despite this well documented legal tactic, Monsanto spokesperson Thomas Helscher stated in an email: "Monsanto has never sued and has publicly committed to not sue farmers over the inadvertent presence of biotechnology traits in their fields. The company does not and will not pursue legal action against a farmer where patented seed or traits are found in that farmer's field as a result of unintentional means."
"Inadvertent" and "unintentional" are the key words here, but for farmers to prove that Monsanto's transgenic seeds are unwanted invaders in a court of law is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. A 2005 report from the Center for Food Safety, an organic-food and sustainable agriculture advocacy group, contends that Monsanto had at that time filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers. The report also contends that the corporation employed 75 people armed with a budget of $10 million devoted "solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers."
To read the entire article, please click on the link provided below:
I found this article at the website of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association: