Editor’s Note: Last week’s featured article, Organic on the Offensive, inspired strong reactions from people on both sides of the GMO debate. Among the responses Sage received was a letter from Don Patterson, a Virginian farmer and the man who helped catalyze the lawsuit. Patterson’s response is printed in full below.
Thank you for this article about our lawsuit. It is most important to continue to get these issues raised before the public, so that they can become better informed about the health risks and environmental damage resulting from Monsanto’s system of agriculture. Tillage and erosion has been reduced through their system, but the costs have been greater than the gains. These issues are important to fully understand, but it is a longer discussion to illuminate them.
In the spirit of full accuracy, a couple of corrections may be in order:
Our lawsuit is not a class action suit, though it will have precedential value affecting others depending in part on the points won. The suit seeks a “declaratory judgment” under the provisions of the Declaratory Judgment Act. In simple terms, that means we are asking the court to tell Monsanto they cannot sue organic and other non-transgenic farmers if they become accidentally contaminated and possess Monsanto’s patented genes without paying a royalty. The case is important, because farmers are effectively prevented from suing for contamination damages as long as Monsanto can countersue for patent infringement.
Our suit goes beyond the request for a declaratory judgment in stating a variety of associated arguments about Monsanto’s unjustifiable use of patent law. The first is the argument that the patents should be invalidated because they have adverse public utility. They should also be unenforceable because they have been used to establish a monopoly. Under law, patents are not to be used to form a monopoly. Third, the charge of infringement is perverse, because it is illogical to claim infringement for an act over which farmers have no control, do not want, and costs them money. Fourth, Monsanto should not be entitled to damages because they have suffered no losses as a result of the contamination. This is a short, abbreviated version of the arguments we make in the complaint and will argue before a judge. The more detailed arguments can be read in the full complaint at www.pubpat.org or www.endtransgenictrespass.org.
At present, we are still arguing in our appeal over a pre-trial motion addressing our fundamental right to bring our lawsuit. We feel it is unbelievably outrageous that the judge in New York denied us the right to bring our case, while tutoring us as she did about what should comfort us. Without fulfilling the obligation under law to follow the clear precedents on plaintiff standing or to address the underlying facts at issue in the case, the judge committed publicly costly error that I consider nothing short of legally atrocious.
The judge’s failings strengthen our appeal, as we see it, but the appeal should not have been necessary when health, public safety, and environmental issues are at stake. These issues need to be addressed without delay in the public interest, and it is outrageous for the judge to protect the corporate interest at the expense of the public interest, as we believe she did. The people should assess these matters and assign both shame and blame as they believe is warranted.
Finally, I wish it would have been as easy as Dan Ravicher suggested to gather the 83 original plaintiffs in the lawsuit (now we are 75 appellants). If each farmer had [truly] suggested five others, we would have been able to file the lawsuit almost a year earlier. Gathering the plaintiffs would have been no work at all if everyone had suggested five names, and we could have lined up a hundred of them in short order.
In fact, most farmers were very concerned about the risks of retaliation resulting from being associated with our lawsuit. Only the most courageous were willing to stand up, and we only began to gather plaintiffs more than minimally after the courts took action on the lawsuits about transgenic alfalfa and sugar beets. (Ed. note: In 2010, a federal judge ruled that Monsanto’s GM sugar beets were illegally approved by USDA, and ordered them destroyed.) That began to give farmers and the leaders of organizations hope that something might be accomplished in the courts. I know about this because I am the person who did the work. Late in the process, help was received, and perhaps only a few people ever offered as many as five names for me to call. The facts need to be distinguished from captivating myth.
Finally, I haven’t worn overalls since I was a small child (I have worn Levis all my life, and I remember when my father took me to buy my first pair and then sat me in the watering trough to soak them so the sun could then shrink them to fit me). I am 75 years old this year, not 60, and that happened when I was about five.
Featured photograph: Satellite photo of farm fields in Kansas. Courtesy of NASA.