Maine farmer leads organic growers’ continued fight against Monsanto

Posted March 29, 2012, at 5:50 p.m.
Jim Gerritsen, who grows organic seed potatoes on his family's Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, was named by the editors of Utne Reader to the magazine's 2011 list of 25 “People Who Are Changing the World.”
Courtesy of Jim Gerritsen
Jim Gerritsen, who grows organic seed potatoes on his family's Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, was named by the editors of Utne Reader to the magazine's 2011 list of 25 “People Who Are Changing the World.”

BRIDGEWATER, Maine — Organic farmers will appeal a case dismissed in February that pitted them against corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in federal court.

The group that brought the lawsuit is the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, which is headed by Maine potato-seed farmer Jim Gerritsen of Bridgewater.

“We want to believe that the system will work for us,” Gerritsen said Thursday.

Monsanto is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products, according to its website, and one of its products is genetically modified, or transgenic, seeds. Activist groups across the world have lobbied against genetically modified seeds, calling them unsafe for human consumption and saying that they weaken or destroy other seeds and crops.

Gerritsen said that Monsanto defends those seeds and claims patent infringement by organic farmers whose produce becomes contaminated from modified seed that drifts onto their fields. The lawsuit sought to challenge the constitutionality of Monsanto’s seed patents and to protect farmers accused of stealing patented seed.

Organic crops can be contaminated by wind drift of pollen from transgenic crops such as corn. Maine allows farmers to grow transgenic corn.

Gerritsen said that if a neighbor raised a transgenic crop such as corn and the wind blew the pollen onto his organic farm, it could contaminate his crops.

The suit originally was filed in March 2011 by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and 83 agricultural and consumer groups. In February, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Southern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit before it went to trial.

The court ruling said there was no likelihood that Monsanto would pursue patent-infringement cases against the organic farmers, who have no interest in using the company’s patented seed products.

Gerritsen maintained that growers have a right not to be invaded by something that would be catastrophic to their businesses and families. He also said that virtually all of the 83 farmers represented in the initial suit are joining the appeal.

Wood Prairie Farm is a certified organic family farm producing seed and specialty potatoes, including the award-winning Prairie Blush variety discovered by Jim and Megan Gerritsen, plus vegetable and grain seed. The farm has customers in all 50 states.

He said that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., will not be able to hear the case until this fall or winter.

“We filed this suit a year ago because farmers and their families need justice,” he said Thursday. “We did not get justice, so we will keep fighting.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Aroostook