Category Archives: National

Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Assoc. Joins Suit Against Monsanto

Organic Farms and Seed Sellers File Suit Against Monsanto:

Preemptive Action Seeks Ruling That Would Prohibit Monsanto from Suing Organic Farmers and Seed Growers if Contaminated by Roundup Ready Seed

On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses, and organic agricultural organizations, including the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today against Monsanto to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed.

The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.

The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald.

Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses, and organizations from within the organic agriculture community who are increasingly threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it.  The plaintiff organizations have over 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.

“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”

Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed contaminates and destroys organic seed for the same crop.  For example, soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, organic canola became virtually extinct as a result of contamination. Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now face the same fate, as Monsanto has released genetically modified seed for each of those crops, too.  Monsanto is developing genetically modified seed for many other crops, thus putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture, at stake.

“Consumers indicate, overwhelmingly, that they prefer foods made without genetically modified organisms,” said Dr. Carol Goland, OEFFA’s Executive Director. “Organic farms, by regulation, may not use GMOs, while other farmers forego using them for other reasons. Yet the truth is that we are rapidly approaching the tipping point when we will be unable to avoid GMOs in our fields and on our plates.  That is the inevitable consequence of releasing genetically engineered materials into the environment.  To add injury to injury, Monsanto has a history of suing farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto’s GMOs. On behalf of farmers who must live under this cloud of uncertainty and risk, we are compelled to ask the Court to put an end to this unconscionable business practice.”

In the case, PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement.  One argument justifying this result is that Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law, according to PUBPAT’s Ravicher, plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case.  Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing today proves that genetically modified seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of genetically modified seed – increased production and decreased herbicide use – are false.

“Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that’s not possible, and it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply,” said Ravicher.  “Monsanto is the same chemical company that previously brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB’s, and other toxins, which they said were safe, but we know are not.  Now Monsanto says transgenic seed is safe, but evidence clearly shows it is not.”

The plaintiffs in the suit represented by PUBPAT are: Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association; Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.; OCIA Research and Education Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems; Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; FEDCO Seeds Inc.; Adaptive Seeds, LLC; Sow True Seed; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Mumm’s Sprouting
Seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC; Comstock, Ferre & Co., LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics; Cuatro Puertas; Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.; Alba Ranch; Wild Plum Farm; Gratitude Gardens; Richard Everett Farm, LLC; Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc; Genesis Farm; Chispas Farms LLC; Kirschenmann Family Farms Inc.; Midheaven Farms; Koskan Farms; California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm; Taylor Farms, Inc.; Jardin del Alma; Ron Gargasz Organic Farms; Abundant Acres; T & D Willey Farms; Quinella Ranch; Nature’s Way Farm Ltd.; Levke and Peter Eggers Farm; Frey Vineyards, Ltd.; Bryce Stephens; Chuck Noble; LaRhea Pepper; Paul Romero; and, Donald Wright Patterson, Jr.

For a copy of the complaint, go to http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf.

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About OEFFA
OEFFA was founded in 1979 and is a grassroots coalition of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers, and others who share a desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to family farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and creates economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA also operates one of the oldest and most respected organic certification programs in the nation, certifying more than 650 operations throughout the Midwest. For more information, go to www.oeffa.org.

About PUBPAT
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is a not-for-profit legal services organization affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. PUBPAT protects freedom in the patent system by representing the public interest against undeserved patents and unsound patent policy. For more information, go to www.pubpat.org.

Good News for the Local Food Movement

Good News for the Local and Regional Food Movement

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act today, after a long bout of legislative wrangling by local food advocates, small farmers and their allies for food safety rules that protect consumers without curbing the growing movement toward fresh, local and regional food.  The food safety bill passed by the House in July of 2009 would have imposed a one size fits all regulatory system biased toward  industrial agriculture with a regressive registration fee, expensive food safety plans, and regular on-farm FDA inspections regardless of the degree of the potential risk for food borne illness.  The new regulatory burdens threatened to erect formidable barriers to the developing local and regional markets for many small and moderate sized farms.

In the past two years, small farm advocates worked to win small and mid-size farm amendments to the legislation.  One organization that was key to the efforts was the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The  amendments incorporated into the Food Safety Modernization Act and signed today by the President include:

Continue reading Good News for the Local Food Movement

Food Safety Bill Passes, Now Goes to President Obama

Earlier today the House of Representatives passed  H.R. 2751 The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act with 215 voting for and 144 against.  Ten Republicans voted for the bill (see Final Vote). This is the bill that the Senate passed by voice vote on Sunday, December 19th, with the Tester-Hagan amendment protecting small farms intact.

The food safety bill hit a roadblock after passing the Senate in late November because a provision requiring the collection of user fees violated the Constitutional mandate that all revenue-generating measures must originate in the House.  House leaders then attached the bill as an amendment to two separate spending bills, neither of which were able to gain Republican support in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) circumvented the original technical mistake by attaching the bill to a House-originated measure (HR 2751) authorizing a cash-for-clunkers program – a “shell bill” with bipartisan support.  Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who had threatened to filibuster S.510 in November, dropped his objection at the last minute, allowing the food safety bill to pass unanimously.  The Washington Post reported this morning that Coburn staffer John Hart did not know why the Senator relented.

Text of the Bill: HR2751

President Obama is expected to sign the bill before Christmas.

Online Farm Link Tool for Beginning Farmers

On Monday, December 13, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the release of TIP Net, an online tool to help link retiring farmers who have expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts with beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers who want to buy or rent land for their operations.

Under the Transition Incentives Program (TIP), administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, retired or retiring owners or operators with expiring CRP contracts can receive up to two additional annual rental payments if they sell or lease the CRP land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers who are interested in bringing the land into production using sustainable grazing or crop production methods, including transitioning to organic.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition » Archive » USDA Introduces Online Farm Link Tool for Beginning Farmers.

Update on S. 510 Federal Food Safety Legislation

The Farmers Market Management Network of Ohio has been following the Senate’s food safety bill closely and just issued an alert to keep in the amendments that protect small farms and processors that sell locally.  The two articles below give  a good overview of where the legislation is now.    Your action is needed to keep local food growing.

Action Alert – Local and Regional Food at Risk

Action Alert December 8, 2010 Local and Regional Food at Risk Call Your Representative Food Safety Legislation passed by the Senate and to be… »

Update on Federal Food Safety Bill S.510

On Tuesday, November 30, a year after it was reported out of Committee, the Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510) passed the Senate, 73-25. The bill,… »

Sara Lee Greenwashes new bread product: “Eco-grain” – buyer beware

This is hot off the newswire:

“EcoGrain” Marketing Blitz — Greenwashing New Bread Produced with Toxic Agrochemicals as Something /Better/ Than Organic

*Cornucopia, Wisconsin:* With the growing success of organics, and increasing consumer interest in buying foods that were grown on sustainable farms without toxic chemicals, Sara Lee Corporation has launched, with much fanfare, a marketing campaign for its /Earthgrains /bread, chock-full of environmental-friendly catchphrases.

Sara Lee claims that “Eco-Grain™,” an ingredient actually used in small proportions in its Earthgrains brand breads, is /more/ sustainable than organic grain. What has been described as a “crass and exploitive marketing ploy” has angered many in the organic community.

“Corporations like Sara Lee clearly want to profit from consumers’ interest in ecological and healthy food production. But unlike organic companies, Sara Lee is doing practically nothing to ensure its ingredients are truly ecologically produced,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, a Food and Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog. “It’s a crass example of a corporation trying to capitalize on the valuable market cachet of organic, while intentionally misleading consumers—without making any meaningful commitment to protect the environment or produce safer and more nutritious food.”

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group, points out that the farmers who grow Eco-Grain differ very little from most conventional grain producers who use petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides, and have little in common with certified organic farmers.

The one attribute that Sara Lee uses to differentiate Eco-Grain production is that the farmers, although they use chemical fertilizers, incorporate technology that has reduced fertilizer usage by 15%. In contrast, as mandated by federal law, organic farmers are required by law to reduce their synthetic fertilizer use by 100%.

Organic farmers use natural fertilizers, compost and crop rotations to enrich the long-term health of the soil, without damaging the environment or potentially contaminating the food produced.

However, Cornucopia’s Vallaeys points out that, “Even if their new fancy wheat were truly superior, each Earthgrains 24 ounce loaf contains only 20% flour from Eco-Grain, with the remainder of the bread’s wheat coming from regular, conventional wheat. The total reduction in chemical fertilizer use in a loaf of EarthGrains bread therefore amounts to a meager 3%.”

“Even though they’ve done a countrywide media rollout, including underwriting spots on National Public Radio, Sara Lee is, in essence, playing a shell game,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute. “Even as they had the audacity to promote a bread with just 20% of their ‘value added’ wheat, the rest of their product line has 0% content of the Eco-Grain. If advertising executives could be charged with malpractice, this would be a major felony,” Kastel said.

The Cornucopia Institute has written to the CEOs of both Sara Lee and NPR <http://www.cornucopia.org/eco-grain/SaraLee_NPRletter.pdf> requesting that the “misleading and unethical” packaging and advertising campaign, and associated advertising and underwriting, be immediately suspended while the corporations investigate their propriety.

In addition to the organic prohibition against chemical fertilizers, federal regulations also prohibit organic farmers from using toxic pesticides that are commonly applied to conventional wheat fields, including those growing “Eco-Grain.”

One such pesticide typically used in conventional wheat production is 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), which EPA researchers have correlated with numerous birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. Other research has linked the use of toxic pesticides on wheat fields to increased cancer mortality rates.

And, in addition to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, conventional wheat farmers sometimes use synthetic fungicides and other chemicals to treat their fields.

“For Sara Lee to claim that their wheat is ecologically grown and sustainable, when they appear to make no effort to reduce or eliminate their use of toxic pesticides, that have terrible effects on the environment and public health, is highly disingenuous,” says Nathan Jones, who grows organic wheat in King Hill, Idaho and chairs the Organic Advisory Board of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

In addition to shunning toxic agrochemicals, organic farmers are required to improve the long-term health of their soil, and increase biodiversity on their farms.

*/ /*

“Unfortunately, this is another example of a major agribusiness trying to blur the line between products labeled ‘organic’ and ‘natural’,” stated Kastel, who acts as Cornucopia’s Senior Farm Policy Analyst. “It seems that some corporations, like Sara Lee, appear more interested in corporate profit and greenwashing than true environmental stewardship, and are doing everything they can to take advantage of this confusion among consumers,” Kastel added.

“The term ‘natural’ on products like bread is not regulated by state or federal government,” says Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition at New York University. “Companies that use the term ‘all natural’ essentially come up with their own definition.”

In addition, some of Sara Lee’s other bread ingredients, such as soy oil and soy lecithin, are grown and processed using genetic engineering and chemical extraction with the toxic solvent hexane, both technologies that are banned in organic production.

In online marketing materials, Sara Lee even claims that farming methods used to produce its “100% Natural” bread “have some advantages over organic farming.” They cite only one ecological advantage, claiming that organic farmers require more land than conventional growers.

“This claim does not hold up against recent scientific data,” said Alison Grantham, Research Manager at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, an agricultural research, education and outreach group. “Long-term trials, such as our nearly 30-year-old Farming Systems Trial, show long-term average organic farming systems’ crop yields match conventional farming system yields, and that the improvements in soil health achieved by organic management actually support higher yields during droughts.”

“I just can’t believe that Sara Lee would claim to be more sustainable than organic bakers like me,” affirms Daniel Leader, a certified organic bread baker and owner of Bread Alone Bakery in the Hudson Valley, New York. “In deference to my customers, I’ve made an investment in real sustainability by going organic, and for Sara Lee to tarnish the good name of organics, and even claim to be superior to organic bread, is simply unacceptable.” Bread Alone Bakery is certified by the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, a certifier accredited by the USDA.

Sara Lee’s longtime ad jingle campaign doesn’t seem to be ringing true for organic farmers, bakers and consumers—“Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.” It will remain to be seen whether spending more money on marketing and advertising than on Eco-Grain itself will pay off for the agribusiness giant.

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*More: *

For more information on the difference between Earthgrains bread and organic bread, The Cornucopia Institute has prepared a fact sheet, available at http://www.cornucopia.org/eco-grain/eco-grain-fact-sheet.html

The Earthgrains/Eco-Grain investigation is the first in a series of /Natural Versus Organic/ profiles that The Cornucopia Institute will be issuing in 2010.

The campaign is intended to empower consumers and wholesale buyers with marketplace knowledge so that they can make good, discerning purchasing decisions—providing their families and customers with truly superior food that pays dividends for human health, the environment and society.

*/The Cornucopia Institute, /*/a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group*,* is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their* Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. Their web page can be viewed at *//www.cornucopia.org/ <http://www.cornucopia.org/>/. /