I have a few questions:
1. Can the farmer buy the non-GM soy seeds?
We would have to ask a farmer I suppose. I don’t see how monsanto could stop the sale of non-GM seeds though since they can’t own a patent on them. If there was deand for the product someone must be selling them.
Yes, there are companies selling non-GM seeds. However, Monsanto is one of the largest sellers of seeds (and many of the seed sellers are subsidiaries of Monsanto or similar companies), and its possible that the companies selling non-GM seeds can’t provide them in enough volume.
2. Will the GM plants pollinate the non-GM fields near them?
According to THIS article on NPR GM plants are not sterile and can pollinate others but I suppose you would have to have the name of the product to get a specific answer. THIS is a link to the page on their site that lists their products. You can start there if you want to research it.
Supposedly, organic farmers are finding their crops fertilized by GM crops planted on neighboring fields. There have been a number of lawsuits about it, with Monsanto suing people in those farms for “stealing” Monsanto’s crops. There’s considerable dispute over who was in the wrong in those cases, as the farmers are generally forced to settle because they can’t afford the legal expense of going to trial.
3. And, if so does that mean a farmer couldn’t use his own grown seeds the next year?
That’s a good question but my guess is that the company can not lay claim to the random spread of its genetic material once its out in the open. That would make its claims to open ended. Keep in mind that any individuals produced by cross pollination would be hybrids and may or may not exhibit any of the genetic advantages as the pure bred variety. It really depends on the genetics of the trait. Is it a dominant trait or a recessive one? Is it a single genetic alteration or does it involve multiple genes which may not travel together closely on the same gene?
According to the documentaries on the subject that I’ve seen (anti-Monsanto, so their veracity may be suspect to say the least), Monsanto can, and does, say that any such crops fall under their patent.
4. If Monsanto did try to sue under such conditions, wouldn’t the farmer have grounds for a counter-suit claiming that their pollen contaminated his fields?
As stated above I doubt Monsanto could sue unless they could prove the farmer made a conscious effort to cross pollinate and steal their intellectual property. The farmer would have a case only if he could prove that the cross pollination caused him harm in some way and that Monsanto’s action was the proximate cause of that harm.
Valid case or not, intellectual property lawsuits are notoriously expensive and most people can’t afford to fight them. To give you an idea of how much they can cost, Apple and Samsung are currently spending more on suing one another than they are on R&D.
5. Didn’t the GM companies introduce a lethal gene such that second generation seeds would be sterile? And didn’t that work?
Again, check the NPR link above but that doesn’t appear to be true.
For the seeds in this lawsuit, they were not sterile, but yes, so-called “terminator seeds” have been developed. I can’t find the news story, but Monsanto is considering reintroducing them as a result of this lawsuit. They fell out of favor because people were concerned that such seeds could put the global food supply at risk.
Prior to the introduction of GM crops, a seed company which produced a new variety of seed, knew that they had only about a season or two after they introduced that crop to recoup their expenses in developing that variety (an expensive, time consuming process, dependent upon random chance to a large degree), because after that point in time, their competitors would be able to introduce that variety themselves (having purchased the seeds from the developer and then growing the plants). Allowing GM seeds to be patented enabled companies to block their competition from producing those same seeds for 20 years (as well as eliminating random chance from the development process).
Note that the farmer being sued bought the seeds at the center of the lawsuit from a third party and not Monsanto, so this is akin to you buying a used car, modifying it, and then having the car manufacturer sue you over the modifications because you violated the agreement the car maker had with the original owner. This seems bizarre to me.
GM crops offer a great deal of promise, but they offer a great deal of danger as well. Evolution is a harsh mistress, and while “RoundUp Ready” crops allow a farmer to spray their crops indiscriminately with herbicide to kill unwanted weeds, those weeds eventually evolve resistance to RoundUp, and its possible that the higher level of RoundUp farmers are forced to spray on crops are not good for us.
Glyphosate is the active chemical ingredient in the notorious weed killer, Roundup. This chemical is so heavily used at this point that it’s now detected in soil, air, bodies of water and rain – meaning, at this point, escape is dubious, even if you eat mostly organic. In 2009 alone the USDA reports that nonorganic farmers poured 57 million pounds of glyphosate on food crops. Basically, Glyphosate is meant to do one thing – kill. It kills broadleaf plants, grasses and other plants. Because it’s a systemic herbicide, the chemical goes into the plant, not just on it, which means we eat Glyphosate when we choose food it’s been used on. The EPA classifies Glyphosate as only slightly toxic, yet various studies have linked it to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive problems, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage, nose and throat irritation and the National Pesticide Information Center (pdf) notes, “Swallowing products with glyphosate can cause increased saliva, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.” So, by all means, let’s keep pouring this stuff on crops.
In China, GM cotton crops engineered with BT toxin killed weevils like they were supposed to, but the gains in crop yields were wiped out after the first year, as other cotton pests, normally kept in check by the weevils were able to fill the niche vacated by the weevils. It was originally thought that once the weevils were wiped out, there would be no threats to the cotton crop. That turned out not to be the case.