Edible Gardens, a Santa Barbara-based seed company, is spearheading a lawsuit against biotech giant Monsanto that challenges the company’s patents on genetically modified seed.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of SeedKeepers, the parent company of Edible Gardens, by the Public Patent Foundation. The suit was filed in federal district court in Manhattan.

“St. Louis, Mo.-based Monsanto has sued farmers for patent infringement in cases where the company’s genetically modified seed has landed on the farmers’ property,” Dan Ravicher, lead attorney in the case and the Public Patent Foundations’s executive director, said in a statement. “It seems quite perverse that a farmer contaminated by GM seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that if farmers are ever affected by Monsanto’s modified seed, they cannot be accused of or sued for patent infringement.

Organic farmers have been angered by the use of genetically modified seed because it damages their organic seed when it spreads. According to the statement, organic canola seed has become virtually extinct since Monsanto introduced genetically modified canola seed, and “organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now face the same fate.”

“Santa Barbara is a community with a rich agricultural heritage and an abundance of organic farmers,” said William Martin, president of Edible Gardens and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Once a natural seed variety is contaminated, there is no turning back — the genetics are altered forever. Under the current patent laws, these seeds and the crops are considered the property of Monsanto, which has a vested interest in eliminating natural, open-pollinated varieties.

“We are on the verge of losing in one generation, much of the agricultural diversity humankind created in the last 10,000 years. Our future will depend on how well we steward our precious resource of natural seeds and pass them on to future generations.”

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent USDA decision to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa, despite court rulings against the planting of these crops.

— William Martin is the president of Edible Gardens.