Vermont House Passes Bill To Allow Lawsuits Against Biotech Crops


The Vermont House of Representatves passed a bill that would allow organic and conventional farmers to sue biotech seed companies for "contaminating" their crops. For example, if pollen from biotech enhanced crops drifts over an organic or conventional farmer's field, the companies that sold the seed to the biotech farmer can be sued if the organic or conventional farmer can prove that he lost more than $3500 in value as a result.

University of Oklahoma law professor Drew Kershen rejects the argument that an organic farmer should be able to recover his losses because his customers think his crops are "contaminated" with genes from genetically enhanced crops. Kershen offers an example in which a tattoo parlor legally opens between a florist and a Christian bookstore, advertising a special on satanic tattoos. Customers offended by the tattoo shop begin avoiding the florist and bookstore. Under American common law, the florist and the bookstore do not have a cause of action, because "economic expectation is not recoverable." Similarly, an organic farmer who expected to sell his crop at a premium would nevertheless be able to sell it at market rates as a conventional crop; he loses only the premium he expected to gain.

I discussed the Kershen argument and others in an earlier column opposing similar claims for establishing novel causes of action against biotech "contamination." If you haven't already made up your mind, take a look here.

In any case, one sensible Vermont representative made the best argument against the bill:

Rep. William Johnson, R-Canaan, also a dairy farmer, argued that all the bill would do was erroneously call into question the safety of genetically modified organisms. "It's based on a false premise," he said. "It's based on the premise that there's something wrong with genetically engineered seeds or biotechnology."

Disclosure: I do NOT own any stocks in biotech seed companies. I really believe what I'm arguing without being paid to say it. Of course, that's true for everything I write; so in the future please go bother someone who cares about your stupid suspicions.