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Organic Farmers Can Now Sue GMO, Conventional Farmers Whose Pesticides Trespass in Minnesota

We don’t seem to get a lot of good news when it comes to GMO vs organic legislation. But the courts have been more friendly to the rights of organic farmers and consumers than government administrators and legislators in the U.S., and the appeals court in Minnesota follows that trend.

It has “ruled that a large organic farm surrounded by chemical-laden conventional farms can seek damages for lost crops, as well as lost profits, caused by the illegal trespassing of pesticides and herbicides on its property.”

The decision follows years of a pesticide cooperative contaminating the fields of organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson, who own a 1,500-acre organic farm in Stearns County, Minnesota.

After years of little retribution and huge losses, the Johnsons’ finally decided to sue in 2009. The district court denied the case but the Appeal’s Court ruled that pesticides travelling onto the Johnsons’ organic farm from careless practices is, indeed, just like any other form of trespass and subject to the same laws. Natural News notes that a similar ruling, or even stronger ruling, was recently made in California:

a California-based organic farm recently won a $1 million lawsuit filed against a conventional farm whose pesticides spread through fog from several miles away, and contaminated its fields. Jacobs Farm / Del Cobo’s entire season’s herb crop had to be discarded as a result, and the court that presided over the case acknowledged and agreed that the polluters must be held responsible.

Interesting.

Now, these two huge decisions set a legal precedence that gives other organic farmers negatively impacted by nearby conventional and GMO farmers the right to seek retribution via the courts. This is HUGE. Finally, the producers of these high-quality products are finding some protection from the courts. Hopefully, the trend continues and instead of seeing Monsanto turn farmers bankrupt from having GM seeds they don’t want blow into their fields and being sued for that, these farmers can sue the Monsanto farmers.

This is totally exciting news to me. Anything I’m missing here? Am I being overly excited?

Image via afsart

8 comments
  1. Karl Haro von Mogel

    Yes, I think you are being overly excited. The court decision doesn’t say anything about genetically engineered crops and pollen or seed drift from farm to farm. So when you say that organic farmers can sue GMO farmers – that has not been decided by this court case. Unfortunately, this idea spread like wildfire because early reporters mistakenly lumped all kinds of spillover effects that they don’t like (pesticides, GMOs) into one bag and assumed the court ruled on all of them together. There are other kinds of spillover effects as well, some that run from organic to conventional (And GMO) farmers – such as weed seeds and pests that organic farmers do not control through their growing practices.

    1. Zach

      hmm, yeah, i noticed what it was referring to (not GMOs), but think it sets a precedence for that as well. but something for the courts and judges of future cases to decide

      from my limited knowledge of the law, though, it seems to present a clear opening

      1. Karl Haro von Mogel

        Well, no it doesn’t set a precedence for cross-pollination of GE crops. This is not the first case (by a long shot) where pesticide overspray led to legal action or compensation for the farmer affected by it. For some reason, people are making it sound like it is, and that it had to do with GE crops, which it didn’t.

        Issues with cross-pollination have been going on for quite some time, such as if one farmer wants to grow sweet corn, and the other – field corn for grain, they have had to handle the pollen issue. Certified Seed also involves the same issue of “unwanted” pollen or seeds coming on your land. However there is no case to my knowledge where someone has successfully sued over this kind of spillover effect. And I’m not sure that you really want it to come to pass. For instance, if an organic farmer grows peanuts next door to a (hypothetical) genetically engineered non-allergenic peanut farm, it is the organic farmer who would be spilling their unwanted (and potentially hazardous) pollen onto the peanut farm intended for people with allergies. Pollen and seed spillover is a different issue from pesticides, especially since the recipient farm can do something about it. Buffer zones, and crops that cannot be cross-pollinated by other varieties are some things that make the pollen-seed drift issue unique from pesticides.
        Besides, if in your view this presents a ‘clear opening’ for suing for GE crop drift, then it would also present a ‘clear opening’ for suing organic farmers for weed seeds and increased insect pressures caused by their farming operations. For instance, organic potato farms unleash colorado potato beetles on their conventional neighbors – I know a scientist who is investigating this very phenomenon to figure out how much harm is caused by this. Could the conventional farmers sue the organic farmers in that case?

  2. Rich

    Karl makes a good point. What is that old saying? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, more pointedly, put the shoe on the other foot. Organic crop production can indeed contaminate conventionally grown crops. Organics are usually the victim in court dramas, but it should be kept in mind that the right to farm one’s land cuts both ways in our court system. There are indeed instances that conventional farmers fall victims to organic crop production.

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