Organic growers seek aid of court



For the Capital Press

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and a large group of co-plaintiffs have appealed a decision by Judge Naomi Buchwald of the federal district court in Manhattan. Buchwald ruled on Feb. 24 that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.

The issues of the suit were not heard by the court. We sought court protection from being sued in the event our seed crops become crossed with plants that contain patented genes.

Where pollen from genetically engineered crops is in the air, it is not possible to stop it from pollinating our seed.

That can lead to a significant loss of value, particularly in the organic sector, where genetically engineered content is considered to be contamination.

This suit only asks that incoming pollen not lead to a further risk of being sued for patent infringement and that patent holders have no rights to subsequent generations of the crop.

The core issue here is control and ownership of the food supply. First, can a farmer save his own seed? We may choose to buy seed each year, but should we have to?

In my opinion, the right to collect and replant seeds from plants one has grown should be considered a universal human right. Further, seeds should not be subject to patent at all. Seeds are not inventions.

The Plant Variety Protection Act exists to give protection to developers of new varieties. But that is not the subject of this lawsuit.

Second, can independent seed growers exist in a world where unwanted gene sequences confer ownership rights in someone else? Do farmers wish to have choices in what varieties we plant? Do we wish to have choices in who produces those seeds?

If patents on a few genes, desirable or otherwise, that have found their way into our crops leaves us open to being sued, independent seed growers are under continuous threat. Choices in what to plant will become more limited.

Seed savers and seed growers have a right to protect ourselves from the threat of being sued if our crops are pollinated by patented crops grown on neighboring farms. Declaratory Judgment Act protection is warranted. The court erred in dismissing this suit. The court of appeals should allow the case to go forward and be heard on its merits.

Jonathan Spero of Williams, Ore., is a sweet corn breeder and member of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, co-plaintiff in the OSGATA et al vs. Monsanto lawsuit.

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