6 Different Reasons Monsanto Has Been Sued Over the Years

Last Update: August 9, 2022

Earlier this month, the Portland, Ore. City Council passed a unanimous resolution to allow a city attorney to sue Monsanto for producing the chemical PCB, which officials allege has contaminated the city’s waterways for years. For more than four decades, Monsanto was the sole U.S. manufacturer of cancer-causing PCBs, which were banned by Congress in the late 1970s. Once present in the environment, the chemicals can remain for decades, and Portland claims Monsanto should be on the hook for cleaning them up. (Monsanto, for its part, denies the claim and says it shouldn’t be held responsible when the company has been focused solely on agriculture for the last decade.) It seems like yesterday we were just reporting on two crushing court losses for the biotech company in Mexico: one filed by beekeepers in the Yucatan Peninsula to stop the planting of GMO soy and the other upholding a 2013 injunction stopping the planting of genetically engineered corn in the region. It got us thinking: just how many times has big, bad Monsanto been taken to court for its (alleged) environmental sins? The short answer: lots. While the total number is difficult to tally, here’s a roundup—pun definitely intended—of a few of the higher-profile cases.

1. Patent lawsuits

Several groups have (mostly unsuccessfully) challenged Monsanto on the grounds that the company’s patents on various seeds are invalid, starting with the Public Patent Foundation’s 2006 complaint to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The PTO upheld the patents, with only minor amendments. In February 2012, two NGOs—Navdanya and No Patents On Seeds—opposed a Monsanto patent on melon seeds awarded by the European Union, but a resolution has not been reached.

2. Dioxin poisoning

In what would become the longest jury trial in U.S. history, Kemner v. Monsanto (1984–1987), a group of Missouri plaintiffs claimed to have been poisoned by Monsanto-produced dioxin when a train derailed in 1979. Though the plaintiffs initially won punitive damages in the case, Monsanto appealed and had the ruling overturned.

3. PCB contamination

The Portland lawsuit against Monsanto for PCB contamination has several precedents. In 2003, the company settled with residents of West Anniston, Ala., for $700 million over the manufacturing and dumping of the cancer-causing chemicals. Several other cities, including Los Angeles, Spokane, San Jose, and St. Louis, have filed suits against Monsanto over PCBs more recently—with mixed results.

4. Chemical poisoning

In 2012, a French court found Monsanto guilty in a case involving a farmer who became ill after being exposed to the company’s Roundup herbicide.

5. “Biopiracy”

A Monsanto subsidiary was sued in an Indian court for “biopiracy” after it allegedly created a genetically modified eggplant seed without first getting the proper permissions—a violation of the country’s 2002 biodiversity law.

6. Illegal soybean royalties

A Brazilian judge in 2012 ruled in favor of growers of GMO soybeans who claimed that a royalty they were being charged was illegal because Monsanto’s patents related to Roundup Ready soybeans had expired. And the list goes on.

Question for Monsanto: If you’re treating both the earth and farmers fairly, why all the lawsuits?

Photo credit: bottlerocketprincess via Flickr

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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