Food Court Preview

Promises of bigger yields and fewer pest problems have lured many farmers to use genetically engineered crops in recent years.  The head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives testified last year in Washington about the need to support biotechnology to meet product demands.

Communications Manager Allison Morgan of the Tennessee Farmer's Cooperative says the member-owned business is always trying to provide what farmers want on a local level.  She notes that cotton farmers have been able to limit pesticide applications because they can now grow fields of genetically modified cotton.  Morgan says, "We’re seeing farmers adopting GMOs into their traditional crops at a high rate."  In fact, nearly all cotton, corn and soybeans now grown in the United States is genetically modified, having traits that could only be created in a laboratory.  Farmers are not allowed to save the seed from their crops, but they must buy new seed each year from the company that owns its patent.

Other groups representing farmers like the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Association, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and the International Organic Inspectors Association don't view genetically modified crops as a panacea, but rather as a sort of poison.  These farm, food and consumer groups filed a friend of the court brief last year supporting the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and the 83 growers involved in the lawsuit against the world's largest seed company:  Monsanto. The plaintiffs are challenging the validity of Monsanto's GMO seed patents and seeking protection from lawsuits related to unwanted GMO contamination of their crops. 

A federal district judge in New York is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case tomorrow, to decide whether the case may move forward.  Monsanto wants to dismiss the case, saying "Monsanto does not and will not pursue legal action against a farmer where patented seed or traits are found in that farmer's field as a result of inadvertent means."  Several members of OSGATA plan to be present in court to show that their concerns are not frivolous, while many others are planning a peaceful assembly of support outside the courthouse.

Carol Koury of Sow True Seed
One of those OSGATA members is grandmother Carol Koury, who co-founded an open pollinated, heirloom seed company in Western North Carolina.  Her business, Sow True Seed, tries to buy at least 20% of its seed from local farmers and includes as many organic varieties as possible.  Small farm-related businesses like hers depend on the ability for growers to have GMO-free fields.  She speaks as a business person and as a woman concerned about the future, "I want big, good, long-term studies.  I want to know about the health of animals that are being fed GMO corn, soy and alfalfa.  I want to know what the health effects are on my grandchildren."

The friend of the court brief states, "While the Plaintiffs are at the most immediate risk of suit for patent infringement by Monsanto, the legal principles involved in this Court's decision will have even broader ramifications...ultimately, almost every American consumer somehow makes use (of) products made from from corn, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, or cotton, all of which may implicate the scope and enforceability of Monsanto's patents.  The entire food chain is impacted by the spread of Monsanto's patented crops."

(Writer's note:  in an unrelated project, Sow True Seed has provided seed for our family's garden.)

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