Organic farmer David Zuckerman, a former Vermont legislator, has joined a class-action lawsuit against genetically modified seed giant Monsanto and will appear in a Manhattan courtroom tomorrow for the first hearing in the case.
With his wife, Rachel Nevitt, and their daughter, Addie (pictured), Zuckerman runs Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg, a 115-acre 151-acre certified organic, community-supported-agriculture farm that raises vegetables, pigs and poultry. Zuckerman served seven terms as a Progressive representing Burlington in the state House of Representatives, including four years as chair of the Agriculture Committee, before retiring in 2010.
Monsanto is infamous for suing farmers whose crops were cross-pollinated with the company's patented genetically engineered seeds — and now the farmers are fighting back.
The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), representing 83 farmers and farm organizations with membership upward of 250,000, is asking a federal judge to protect farmers from patent lawsuits should their crops become cross-pollinated with Monsanto's transgenic seed. (Click here to read the complaint.)
As a legislator, Zuckerman sponsored the Farmer Protection Act to protect Vermont farmers from just such lawsuits. "The Farmer Protection Act said that if genetic material did trespass onto another farm, and that farm loses money, the owner of the patent would be liable, not the farmer," Zuckerman tells Seven Days. "It would have placed responsibility for cross-pollination with seed manufacturers like Monsanto."
The legislation passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jim Douglas in 2006.
Zuckerman is the sole Vermont farmer plaintiff in the case, though the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) is also a plaintiff. Zuckerman planned to arrive in New York today in advance of tomorrow's hearing on a motion to dimiss filed by Monsanto.
Zuckerman says that the issue of cross-pollination is a "real risk" for him and other Vermont farmers.
"I've got a conventional dairy farm that grows corn within pollination distance of my fields," he says. "I work to plant my corn further away than that distance, but it doesn't mean it couldn't happen. So I'm one of the people suing because of that potential."
Zuckerman points out that organic certification relates to farming practices, rather than the "end product," meaning he could still sell his produce as "organic" even if it was cross-pollinated with genetically engineered pollen.
"Technically, it would be organic," he says, "but from a consumer perspective and a marketing perspective, people wouldn't buy my corn."
Zuckerman says he isn't aware of a case of cross-pollination in Vermont and that the lawsuit is a preventative measure.
"It's on behalf of myself but part of a bigger-picture agricultural scenario," he says. "It's about our right to be protected from being sued for having it when we didn't do anything to get it."
Images courtesy of Full Moon Farm