The Family Farmers Seed Cooperative is an organization of organic farms across eight states. FFSC members are engaged in the production of vegetable seeds. The FFSC works to maintain and improve the quality of existing public domain seeds, and to create new better performing and better adapted varieties through intentional crossing and selection, beginning with the seed available to us today.
These open source traditional and heirloom seeds are creations thousands of years in the making. FFSC farmers and others like them are part of a long continued process of refining and selecting plants that are best suited to each geographical area and to different farming systems. This process of continued plant selection is essential in order to maintain a variety of locally adapted and widely available seeds.
The process of selecting better vegetables relies on the ability of farmers to continue to select for desirable traits from existing varieties. Some of the existing corn seed stocks are already contaminated with Monsanto’s patented genes, and the continued introduction of patented seeds means that this problem will likely continue and expand to involve many other vegetable crops. Because open pollinated plants cross readily, seed crops can easily become contaminated. Contaminated seed may be, or may become, unavoidable.
The added threat of a lawsuit from Monsanto, in the event our seed becomes contaminated inadvertently by genetically modified crops or patented genetics, threatens the ability of FFSC farmers to grow and breed seeds for the organic market.
Personal statement from a member of the co-op: Lupine Knoll Farm Lupine Knoll Farm produces heirloom vegetable seeds and breeds new vegetable varieties. Our largest development crop is sweet corn. Our process involves trialing numerous commercial varieties, and selecting those varieties with the best organic friendly traits to use in breeding work. We avoid any seed that is known to be genetically modified or GMO contaminated. However, pervasive GMO pollen by Roundup Ready and BT varieties in many corn growing areas means that any of the seed we begin with has the potential to have been contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified crops.
The varieties that we are breeding have not been tested for the presence of engineered gene sequences. We could find that seed used in our breeding program came to us already contaminated by Monsanto’s genes. We do not want GMO’s in our corn, we take what steps we can to avoid contact with genetically modified seed or pollen, and we should not be held responsible for contamination from Monsanto’s products.
—Jonathan Spero, Lupine Knoll Farm New and heirloom vegetable seeds Oregon Tilth Certified Organic
Farmers and independent seed growers, determined to defend the right to save, sell and grow seed, file appeal in O.S.G.A.T.A et al. vs. Monsanto lawsuit The Organic Seed Growers Trade Association and a large group of co-plaintiffs have appealed a decision by Judge Naomi Buchwald of the Federal District court in Manhattan. Judge Buchwald ruled on February 24 that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The issues of the suit were not heard by the court. Plaintiffs/Appellants seek Declaratory Judgment Act court protection from being sued in the event our seed crops become crossed with plants that contain patented genes.
Where pollen from GMO 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 is a sweet corn breeder and member of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative, co-plaintiff in the OSGATA et al. vs. Monsanto lawsuit.