This Bill is About Protecting Our Freedom to Farm

New Mexico needs a bill that protects those who grow our food by establishing a basic right of due process. For three legislative sessions, the Save NM Seeds Coalition has worked with bipartisan sponsors to pass legislation that will provide protection for farmers.  In 2011, sponsors were Rep. Paul Bandy (HB 46) and Senator Stephen Fischmann (SB51).   The bill made it to the House Floor in record time ending in a tie vote.  A second vote days later the bill failed due to heavy lobbying by the New Mexico Chile Association, Monsanto and BIOS, among others.

This bill protects any farmer from being sued
for possession of a genetically engineered (GE) product,

if it is not intended by the farmer.

The bill is not anti-GMO/GE. 
It does not preclude anyone from planting GE seeds, and

it does not preempt federal law.

Why does NM need such legislation?

Biotechnology companies have been creating and patenting genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Farmers who want to plant these seeds enter into contracts with the seed manufacturer. The contract specifies that these seeds cannot be saved and replanted. 

GE crops can cross-pollinate and contaminate neighboring fields. Biotech companies have sued these neighboring growers for “stealing” their patented seeds. Most lawsuits have been settled before going to court with the farmers signing confidentiality agreements.  The lawsuits that have gone to court have been filed primarily in Missouri, costing the farmers even more to defend themselves.

Why is the passage of this bill urgent?

  • GE alfalfawas planted in at least eight counties in New Mexico during 2005-07. This was the first perennial GE crop ever planted. Sales were halted in 2007 due to a court ruling for an inadequate environmental impact analysis, but this alfalfa is still in the ground and growing. GE alfalfa became available for purchase again in 2011. Farmers who have unknowingly become contaminated during these last several years, could now potentially be sued. 
  • GE chile is currently being developed by New Mexico State University for the New Mexico Chile Association. This seed may be available within 1-2 years (NMSU representative statement, meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Committee, September 2010).   NMSU claims they will own the patent on the GE chile (ibid.).

What would this legislation provide for farmers?

  • If a genetically engineered product is found in the possession of, or on property owned or occupied by, a farmer, and the possession of that product is not intended by the farmer, this bill protects the farmer from liability for such possession.   

How many farmers have been sued for alleged patent infringement?

More than 100 lawsuits have been filed in 27 states against farmers for patent infringement. Hundreds of farmers are investigated each year for illegally saving seed. As of 2006, the largest seed company, the Monsanto Company, had instituted an estimated 2,000 – 4,000 “seed piracy matters” against farmers in 19 states. Farmers have paid an estimated $85,653,601 to $160,594,230 in settlements of these seed piracy matters. The number of settlements is 20 – 40 times the number of lawsuits in public court records.

Do other states have similar laws?  Several states have passed similar legislation: North Dakota (2001), South Dakota (2002), Indiana (2003), Maine (2008), California (2008) and Montana (2011).

Have other states introduced similar bills? Since 2009: Illinois, Washington, & Vermont.