With its recent decisions to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a strong signal about its confidence in the safety of GM crops.
Consumers, though, aren't feeling reassured. According to a food safety survey by The NPD Group, 73% of shoppers have at least some awareness of genetically modified foods, and nearly half say they are somewhat concerned that such foods pose a health risk. Fifteen percent say they are very concerned or extremely concerned.
Opposition groups like the Non-GMO Project have raised awareness through marketing campaigns, petitions and retailer partnerships. Now, they're turning to legal avenues. In March, a collection of 60 organic farmers and seed distributors filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, challenging the agribusiness' patents on its genetically modified seeds. Dan Ravicher, executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, called it a preventive measure to keep the company from suing organic farmers should their seeds accidentally comingle with Monsanto's.
“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before,” he said.
Monsanto, in response, called the lawsuit a “publicity stunt” and said it has never sued farmers over the inadvertent mixing of seeds.