The Silliest Lawsuit Against Monsanto

The Silliest Lawsuit Against Monsanto
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
The Silliest Lawsuit Against Monsanto
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Monsanto may be gone, but the lawsuits against the former agricultural company live on. When German life sciences company Bayer acquired the agribusiness behemoth earlier this year, they inherited around $15 billion in revenues, $2.2 billion in profits, as well as at least 8,000 lawsuits. Most recently, Northern California groundskeeper Dewayne "Lee" Johnson, who sadly is dying of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, successfully garnered $78 million from the company after winning a civil suit contending that chronic exposure to Monsanto's weedkiller Roundup caused his cancer, even though his claim sharply conflicts with a mountain of scientific evidence.

Jury judgments such as these are unfortunately based on poor thinking rather than reasoned thought. Fear of supposedly insidious chemicals and GMOs, all created by "Monsatan," drives people to irrational decisions.

Perhaps the best example of this occurred back in 2011. The Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGTA), a group representing a quarter of the nation's organic farmers, sued Monsanto to "protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should [their crops] ever become contaminated by Monsanto's genetically modified seed." Yes, organic farmers were suing Monsanto in order to prevent themselves from being sued by Monsanto.

In court, they claimed that Monsanto sues organic farmers when genetically modified soybean, corn, cotton, sugar beet, and canola seeds blow into organic crops and germinate. They further claimed that this threat had sowed a "climate of fear" throughout the organic farming community.

Yet when arguing this point before Judge Naomi Buchwald in federal district court in Manhattan, the OSGTA and its plaintiffs couldn't point to a single instance where Monsanto had actually sued a farmer for accidental contamination. She dismissed the case just a few weeks later, in what must have been one of the easiest rulings of her career.  Buchwald further noted that Monsanto on average pursued only 13 patent-enforcement lawsuits per year, which "is hardly significant when compared to the number of farms in the United States, approximately two million." In every patent infringement case actually brought to trial – only nine in total – it was found that farmers had stolen seed from Monsanto or attempted to violate their contracts with the company.

The organic farmers appealed Buchenwald's decision and lost again a year later.

Ironically, in this episode of Monsanto silliness, organic farmers suing Monsanto to prevent Monsanto from suing them proved that Monsanto never actually sues them. Strangely, organic farmers were disappointed in the finding.

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