Farmer’s in Oregon could finally get a win in their fight against companies like Monsanto.
House Bill 2739 is under consideration and, if passed, it would allow farmers and landowners to sue biotech patent holders like Monsanto for essentially trespassing on their property.
The House Bill 2739 summary states that it “Allows cause of action against patent holder for genetically engineered organism present on land without permission of owner or lawful occupant.” Defenders of the bill believe it is a step in the right direction to remedy problems caused by GMOs. Sandra Bishop of the Our Family Farms Coalition, which supports HB 2739, spoke to the East Oregonian website saying, “This is not a wild legal grab. We will not be compensated for our angst. We will only be compensated for provable legal damages.”
Contamination from GMOs can cause farmers to have dramatic economic losses. They run the risk of being rejected by export markets that have banned genetically modified organisms. GMO chemicals can also lead to highly resistant weeds and insects that are nearly impossible for farmers to eradicate, and are too time-consuming for them to manage.
Farmers who own organic crops could be subjected to losing their organic certification if their produce becomes contaminated, which would diminish the premium earned on their product. As more markets are looking to carry non-GMO produce, farmers have the opportunity to meet that need and typically get paid a higher price for their product. But the difficulty in preventing contamination is a constant threat that they face.
For years Monsanto has bullied farmers when their GMO seeds ended up on the farmers’ land. While contamination can occur many different ways, by no fault of their own, farmers have been sued when unauthorized GMO crops show up in their fields. The companies that own the seed patents typically win these cases, leaving farmers with few options. This bill, if passed, would give power back to landowners who want to continue to have GMO-free farms.
Plaintiffs who decide to sue these companies could receive up to three times the amount of damages caused by the GMOs that harmed their land under the guidelines of HB 2739. Proponents of the bill find this solution to be fair because it now forces Monsanto, and companies like them, to take responsibility since they are the ones who profit from GMO patents. If they believe it will affect their bottom line, they may be more inclined to regulate the contamination. Supporters also note that finding the culprits will be fairly simple by using the genetic tests established when patents are approved.
There are some opponents to the bill of course, including farmers that depend on GMO seeds. They argue that pollination among similar crops go far beyond GMOs. Critics have also tried guilt-tripping supporters, making claims that the passing of this bill could result in seed companies refusing to introduce new innovative products in Oregon. According to the East Oregonian, Scott Dahlman, policy director of the Oregonians for Food and Shelter agribusiness group, stated that if companies face the threat of additional lawsuits, “they will reconsider whether they sell things here.”
This is not the only bill being brought forth in Oregon this year regarding GMO seed patent holders. House Bill 2469, if passed, would allow local governments to restrict their usage altogether.