Biotechnology has changed the way Americans farm. However, some farmers are getting caught in the crosshairs of patent lawsuits.
The Center for Food Safety released an extensive review of Monsanto's use and abuse of U.S. patent law to control the usage of staple crop seeds by U.S. farmers. The report, Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers, finds that Monsanto's efforts to prosecute farmers can be divided into three stages: investigations of farmers; out-of-court settlements; and litigation against farmers Monsanto believes are in breach of contract or engaged in patent infringement.
CFS notes in the report that, to date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers in 25 states that involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of CFS, says the lawsuits and settlements are nothing less than "corporate extortion of American farmers." The largest recorded judgment CFS has found thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is $3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid a mean of $412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments. Many farmers have to pay additional court and attorney fees and are sometimes even forced to pay the costs Monsanto incurs while investigating them.
"It's hard enough to farm as it is," says Rodney Nelson, a North Dakota farmer sued by Monsanto. "You don't need a big seed supplier trying to trip you up and chase you down with lawyers."
Various policy options supported by CFS include passing local and state-wide bans or moratoriums on plantings of genetically engineered crops; amending the Patent Act so that genetically engineered plants will no longer be patentable subject matter and so that seed saving is not considered patent infringement; and legislating to prevent farmers from being liable for patent infringement through biological pollution.
CFS has established a toll-free hotline for farmers facing lawsuits or threats from Monsanto to get guidance and referrals: 1-888-FARMHLP.