How One 75-Year-Old Soybean Farmer Could Deal A Blow To Monsanto’s Empire Today
Posted: 23 February 2013 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]
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By Aviva Shen on Feb 19, 2013
http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/02/19/1607161/monsanto-supreme-court-hearing/

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a 75-year-old soybean farmer’s appeal against biotech giant Monsanto, in a case that could permanently reshape the genetically modified (GM) crop industry. Victor “Hugh” Bowman has been battling the corporation since 2007, when Monsanto sued him for violating their patent protection by purchasing second-generation GM seeds from a grain elevator. An appeals court ruled in favor of Monsanto, and despite the Obama administration’s urging to let the decision stand, the nine justices will hear Bowman make his case today.

{...}

Monsanto’s winning streak hinges on a controversial Supreme Court decision from 1981, which ruled on a 5-4 split that living organisms could be patented as private property. As a result of that decision, every new generation of GM seeds — and their self-replicating technology — is considered Monsanto’s property.

Unfortunately, second- and third-generation seeds are very hard to track, which may explain why Monsanto devotes $10 million a year and 75 staffers* to investigating farmers for possible patent violations.

and so on and so forth

*http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/11/21/1224761/farmers-insurance-sued-by-corporations/

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Posted: 23 February 2013 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Perhaps even more relevant than whether or not second and third-generation seeds should be destroyed so that Monsanto can resell new seeds is this:

USDA data show that since the introduction of GE seed, the average cost of soybean seed to plant one acre has risen by a dramatic 325 percent, from $13.32 to $56.58. Similar trends exist for corn and cotton seeds: cotton seeds spiked 516 percent from 1995-2011 and corn seed costs rose 259 percent over the same period.
[...] USDA economists have found that seed industry consolidation has reduced research and likely resulted in fewer crop varieties on offer: “Those companies that survived seed industry consolidation appear to be sponsoring less research relative to the size of their individual markets than when more companies were involved… Also, fewer companies developing crops and marketing seeds may translate into fewer varieties offered.”

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Posted: 23 February 2013 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I side with Monsanto on this one. Its easy to paint this story as a David (poor farmer) against Goliath (Monsanto) but if a company spends millions developing a new breed of soybean that has an advantage over the older variety they should be able to protect their research and development investment for a reasonable period of time. Its like any other innovation. If you don’t allow a company to have some way to recoup and profit from its investment then innovation will dry up.

I don’t really get the numbers regarding the cost to plant an acre of crops. Does that take into account the complete cost including fertilizer and pesticides? And is that the final output they are talking about or just the cost of planting an acre? If it costs more to plant a GE crop but you save money on fertilizer and pesticides then the total cost really has not gone up as much as it appears. Additionally if it costs twice as much to plant the acre but your yield is 3 times higher with the GE crop then the total cost per bushel is actually less. I am not saying any of those things are necessarily the case here, but you have to wonder why any farmer or corporation ( since many farms are now owned and run by big corporations) would purchase a crop that would dramatically increase its overhead if the old fashioned traditional seed was really less expensive?

If there is some sort of collusion going on to prevent cheaper non-GE seeds from being sold then that is a problem but there are already laws to address that. They just need to be enforced.

[ Edited: 23 February 2013 12:12 PM by macgyver ]
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Posted: 23 February 2013 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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As much as I want to side with the farmer on this one, it looks like Monsanto has a valid claim. A patent is after all a right protected By the government to guard the patentee, in this case a mega company. Monsanto has the exclusive right to sell their first generation seeds for a period of 20 years before it becomes public domain. I know the farmer needs the profits of his labor but a contract is a contract as John Marshall once said, and a patent is a blanket guarantee for that time period. My question is why is the Supreme Court reviewing the case when it seems to be cut and dried?

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Posted: 23 February 2013 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I have a few questions:

1.  Can the farmer buy the non-GM soy seeds?

2.  Will the GM plants pollinate the non-GM fields near them? 

3.  And, if so does that mean a farmer couldn’t use his own grown seeds the next year?

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?

5.  Didn’t the GM companies introduce a lethal gene such that second generation seeds would be sterile?  And didn’t that work?

Occam

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Posted: 23 February 2013 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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?

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

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Posted: 23 February 2013 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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macgyver - 23 February 2013 05:47 PM
Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

Occam. - 23 February 2013 03:50 PM

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.

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