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Organic Farmers vs. Monsanto: Final Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Crops from GMO Contamination

Food
Organic Farmers vs. Monsanto: Final Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Crops from GMO Contamination

Last week, the Public Patent Foundation filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto, in the hopes that the highest court in the land would hear and reinstate the case of 73 American organic and conventional family farmers, seed businesses and public advocacy groups that seek protection for America's farmers from Monsanto's frivolous patent infringement lawsuits, and their promiscuous genetically engineered pollen while also seeking to invalidate the patents on 23 of Monsanto's genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops.

Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer on Wood Prairie Farm in Maine and president of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, has spent the past 37 years of his life protecting and maintaining the integrity of his seed stock to provide clean, wholesome food to his customers.

Earlier this month, Monsanto filed an opposition brief with the Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to deny a group of American family farmers and seed growers justice in their efforts to protect their farms and the integrity of their crops.

"In opposing our request that the Supreme Court take, and then reinstate, our case, Monsanto makes the same lame and untrue assertions that it made before," said Daniel Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto. "In our reply brief filed with the Supreme Court we point out precisely why Monsanto is wrong and that the case should be allowed to proceed," claimed Ravicher.

On June 10, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., issued a bizarre ruling that plaintiffs are not entitled to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto's transgenic seed patents "because Monsanto has made binding assurances that it will not take legal action against growers whose crops might inadvertently contain traces of Monsanto biotech genes" as stated anonymously on the company's website.

Farmers find this ruling inconclusive and  insufficient to protect their future economic interests since the Court of Appeals readily admitted that contamination from Monsanto's genetically engineered crops is "inevitable."

This Appellate Court ruling importantly validated that farmers do have a legitimate fear of contamination, something that the court and Monsanto's own attorney, former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, admitted in court during oral arguments.

Despite dismissing the farmers' and seed growers' case, the Court of Appeals ruling found the likelihood of contamination significant enough to order by estoppel that Monsanto make good on its promise not to sue farmers that are "inadvertently contaminated with up to one percent of seeds carrying Monsanto's patented traits." 

"As a seed grower, who has spent the past 37 years of my life protecting and maintaining the integrity of my seed stock to provide clean, wholesome food to my customers, I find it unconscionable that Monsanto can contaminate mine or my neighbors' crops and not only get away with it, but potentially sue us for patent infringement," said Jim Gerritsen, an organic seed farmer on Wood Prairie Farm in Maine and president of lead Plaintiff OSGATA. "The appeals court ruling fails to protect my family and our farm and has only complicated matters,"said Gerritsen.

Because of the insidious nature of GMO contamination and the fact that pollen naturally blows or migrates to neighboring fields, contamination of farmers' fields above one percent is both predictable and unavoidable. 

Already, reports of contamination across North America exceeding one percent have led an increasing number of farmers to incur considerable costs in testing their crops and seed supply for transgenic contamination or actually forgo planting of certain crops in order to maintain seed purity.

Significant contamination events happened in the U.S. this year alone, with an unapproved experimental variety of Monsanto's GMO wheat discovered in a farmer's field inOregon this past May. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the illegal GMO wheat had been field-tested between 1998 through 2005, but never approved by the USDA. Its discovery sent shockwaves through international markets and caused Japan and South Korea to halt shipments of U.S. wheat for more than a month.

A similar event occurred in September when a Washington state farmer reported that his hay was rejected for export because it tested positive for contamination from Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa.

"For farmers, recent events in Washington and Oregon make clear that the damages of contamination are far-reaching in their impacts on farmers' economic survival, can be permanent and irreversible in their harm to our food supply and only can be properly redressed by a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court," said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots advocacy group based in Iowa and a plaintiff in the case.

"It's time to end Monsanto's campaign of fear against America's farmers and stand up for farmers' right to grow our food without legal threats and intimidation. America must no longer allow Monsanto to contaminate our food supply and destroy the livelihoods of farmers. Farmers deserve protection from these abuses," said Murphy.

Farmers expect to hear whether or not the U.S Supreme Court will hear their case next year and eagerly await their day in court.

Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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