What do consumers have at stake in the ongoing conflict between small, often organic, growers and agricultural business Monsanto? Depends on who you ask.The leader in biotechnology boasts yields that help farmers and feed the world. Spokesman Tom Helscher described biotech ag as something not at odds with independent growers. “As we have stated clearly, Monsanto never has and never will sue a farmer if our patented seed or traits are found in his field as a result of inadvertent means.” In her recent ruling, the judge that heard the patent law-related case seemed to agree, dismissing the case of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, et. al, versus Monsanto. Helscher also pointed out that consumers can make a choice at the point of purchase by seeking out items voluntarily labeled non-GMO. In California, where mandatory GMO labeling is headed toward a ballot initiative, consumer groups are bracing for a Big Ag-backed misinformation and lobbying campaign.
One of 83 plaintiffs in the OSGATA case, activist Don Patterson of Virginia, remains steadfast about moving forward via the appeals process. “Actually at this point, I’m feeling that it’s probably a good thing that it happened the way it did. I don’t feel that we would be ready if we had won at the district court level for the public relations onslaught from Monsanto; allies are needed to withstand the power of their money and their astroturf organizations.” Patterson also feels it would be good to clarify the issue of the plaintiffs’ right to bring their suit now rather than later.
Patterson stresses that consumers have much at stake in the small farmers’ and seed growers’ struggle to keep their seedstocks free of unwanted transgenics. Yet, consumers, who already eat most of the processed foods they purchase made with genetically modified ingredients, remain largely unaware. Patterson and fellow plaintiffs feel this is not just a business issue, but one of public health, the longevity of the farming system, and the future of the planet. “I also think that farmers are extremely important to the health and future of our democratic ideal. I want to get back to a sensible, healthful system of agriculture, like we had years ago when we had more people involved in agriculture and more diversified, naturally harmonious farming methods integrating animals with the growing of crops.”
When questioned as to whether Patterson opposes the prosperity that might come from larger scale farming, he answered with a question about the bigger picture. He asked if we can measure ag success only in terms of yield, or if we can take nutritional quality and sustainability into account. He acknowledges that the sort of modern farming system with its genetically modified crops, chemical inputs, and high dependency on fossil fuels is what seems to work for most growers, “in the short term, but it cannot prevail long-term without changes. Farmers use it because it saves them money, they don’t have to do any tilling, chemicals are used to kill the weeds, at least until the weeds become resistant to the chemicals, as they now have. We’re the first civilization to put poison on our food before we eat it. It’s not a responsible, healthful, sustainable system of agriculture, and it is part of the reason health costs and illness are on the increase.”OSGATA