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Monsanto Bullies Small Farmers Over Planting Harvested GMO Seeds

Puck Lo
CorpWatch / News Report
Published: Saturday 30 March 2013
The big seed companies use a strategy to attack seed savers that consists of three stages: “investigations, coerced settlements, and, if that fails, litigation.”
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Does Monsanto own all future generations of genetically modified seeds that it sells? The Missouri-based agribusiness giant wants farmers to pay a royalty to plant any seed that descended from a patented original. The legal decision has ramifications for other patented "inventions" that reproduce themselves like strands of DNA.

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to side with Monsanto in oral arguments heard this past February in a lawsuit that the world's largest seed company has brought against Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75 year old farmer in Indiana, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on a small farm of 600 acres (242 hectares).

The impending court decision, which will probably come this June, has sparked alarm among consumer advocates.

"Judges don't understand agriculture," says Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, a Washington DC based watchdog group. "The Monsantos of the world have everyone convinced through a massive misinformation campaigns that biotech crops are essential to feed the world, and patents are necessary for biotech crops. So there's this patina of virtuous innovation when in fact what biotechnology is really used for primarily is to develop pesticide-promoting crops."

The crop in question is Roundup Ready soybeans, which are genetically-altered to be resistant to glyphosate, the main chemical in Roundup, a pesticide also manufactured by Monsanto.

Bowman first fought back when Monsanto sued him in 2007 for patent infringement. At the time, Bowman was a regular Monsanto customer. Like the 275,000 other U.S. farmers who buy "Roundup Ready" seeds, Bowman bought his seeds from Monsanto and signed a contract stating that he would not save Roundup seeds to replant. He didn't.

But from 1999 to 2007, in addition to his usual order of Roundup Ready soybeans for seed, Bowman purchased commodity-grade soybeans, called "commodity grain," from a local grain elevator where farmers like himself sell their crops. Typically, commodity grain is used for animal feed. Bowman, however, decided to use the commodity grain - a mix comprising of many different varieties of soybeans including some Roundup Ready seeds - to plant a second, lower yield soybean harvest later in the season.

"What I wanted was a cheap source of seed," Bowman told National Public Radio, a U.S. network.

Roundup Ready was first marketed in 1996, and it was a hit with farmers in the U.S., the largest producer of genetically modified food in the world. These days, more than 90 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans are Roundup Ready, Monsanto said in court documents. As a result, organic farmers say, it's getting harder to find diverse strains of traditional, heirloom soybeans.

Therefore, it's no surprise that some of the soybeans Bowman took home from the grain elevator contained Monsanto's patented soybeans. For eight years, Bowman planted the commodity-grade soybeans for his second harvest, sprayed Roundup on them, harvested the plants that grew and kept the seeds they produced to plant later. It's these "third generation" seeds that are at the heart of the Supreme Court case now.

Bowman saw nothing wrong with what he was doing. "All through history we have always been allowed to go to an elevator and buy commodity grain and plant it," he told the New York Times.

Not any more, if companies like Monsanto who control most of the global commercial seed market, have their way. The big seed companies use a strategy to attack seed savers that consists of three stages: "investigations; coerced settlements; and, if that fails, litigation," says the Center for Food Safety.

To date, in the U.S., Monsanto has sued 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses for alleged seed patent violation. Monsanto has won every single case. The company was awarded nearly $24 million from just 72 of those judgments, the Center for Food Safety found.

Additionally, Freese estimates that as many as 4,500 small farmers who could not afford legal representation have been forced to accept out-of-court settlements. He estimates, based on Monsanto's documents, that those farmers paid Monsanto between $85 and $160 million in out-of-court settlements.

"As early as 2003, Monsanto had a department of 75 employees with a budget of $10 million for the sole purpose of pursuing farmers for patent infringement," the Center for Food Safety stated in a new report, "Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers." "Agrichemical companies earn billions of dollars each year, and farmers cannot possibly compete against such resources."

"Patents are necessary to ensure that we are paid for our products and for all the investments we put into developing these products," the company states on its website in its defense. "Monsanto invests more than $2.6 million per day in research and development that ultimately benefits farmers and consumers. Without the protection of patents, this would not be possible."

The Center for Food Safety wants federal, state and local governments to work together to regulate the biotechnology industry, using a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1970 as a guideline. The 42 year old Plant Variety Protection Act allowed intellectual property laws to be applied to new and distinct plants.

But it had an exemption for farmers to save seeds of such plants and replant them so long as they do not resell the seed. Plant breeders are also allowed to use protected seed for further breeding work. The law was designed to protect one seed company - say Monsanto - from another - like DuPont. This law did not view farmers as competitors to companies.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that non-hybrid plants could be patented. The final decision was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, who incidentally  worked as an attorney for Monsanto in the 1970s. Since then, courts have tended to side with seed companies suing for patent infringement.

"This (Plant Variety Protection Act) has been largely sidelined now by the patent system," says Freese. "Now companies with patents have this inordinate control over seeds, and they can criminalize seed saving.

Bowman spent $31,000 of his own money on legal fees before a law firm agreed to defend him for free. If Monsanto wins the case against him, he'll have to pay almost $85,000 to the corporation, which made $7 billion in profits in fiscal year 2012.

Bowman's legal argument rests on a 150-year old Supreme Court common law known as the "patent exhaustion doctrine." His lawyer, Mark P. Walters, argued that Monsanto's patent did not apply to seeds descended from Roundup Ready soybeans that were then sold to a grain elevator and mixed with other soybeans.

Monsanto contended that Bowman, by growing and saving seeds from the commodity soybeans he bought from the grain elevator, was making "copies" of the original, patented Monsanto product.

Two lower courts agreed with Monsanto. In 2009, district court in Indiana awarded the company more than $84,000. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which specializes in patent law, upheld the decision in 2011.

In October 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, despite objections made by the Obama administration, which said the judges should let the previous rulings stand. The U.S. government filed a friend of the court brief in support of Monsanto, stating that "the Court's decision could also affect the enforcement of patents for man-made cell lines, DNA molecules, some nanotechnologies and other technologies that involve self-replicating features."

Not surprisingly, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Business Software Alliance, Intellectual Property Owners Association and other industry and research groups also filed friend of the court briefs on Monsanto's side.

On February 19, Supreme Court justices heard both sides of the case.

"Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait, Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention, and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America," Monsanto's lawyer and former U.S. solicitor general, Seth P. Waxman, told the court.

Waxman was allowed to talk uninterrupted at length, "which is usually a sign of impending victory," the New York Times reported.

In contrast, the justices fired a volley of skeptical questions at Bowman's attorney, Mark P. Walters. When Walters argued that Monsanto's patent didn't apply to subsequent generations of seeds after the initial sale, Antonin Scalia, another judge, interrupted him.

"Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if, as soon as they sold the first one, anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?" Scalia asked.

Later, Walters argued that Bowman was "making use" of the commodity grain that he bought on the open market when he planted it, not making a copy of an original Monsanto seed. He was rebuked by Stephen Breyer, another of the judges.

"You can feed it to animals, you can feed it to your family, make tofu turkeys," Breyer interjected. "But... you can't pick up those seeds that you've just bought and throw them in a child's face. You can't do that because there's a law that says you can't do it. Now, there's another law that says you cannot make copies of a patented invention."

"If the concept is the sale of a parent plant exhausts the patentholder's rights... we would have to go all the way back to the very first Roundup Ready plant that was created," said Melissa Arbus Sherry, the lawyer representing the Obama administration. "Every single Roundup Ready seed in existence today is the progeny of that one parent plant and... that would eviscerate patent protections. There would be no incentive to invest, not just in Roundup Ready soybeans or not even agricultural technology."

Walters believes there is still a possibility that the Supreme Court could reverse the decision or send the case back to the lower courts for retrial. He said three of the justices appeared to sympathize with the idea that a farmer ought to be able to sell, plant or grow new seeds from ones he buys on the open market.

"There are many interests: biotech, seed companies, large and small farmers. They're not aligned," Walters told CorpWatch. "Small farmers are not very well organized. They're not a strong voice in Congress. Right now one company with a particular stake is trying to make a case based on a set of particular facts."

Both Walters and Freese agree that in today's political climate, it would be an uphill battle to pass legislation that would regulate the powerful biotech industry. Last year, Monsanto, other agribusiness and food companies spent more than $45 million to defeat a proposition in California that would have required labels on some genetically modified foods sold at stores.

Meanwhile, Bowman has to drive out of the state of Illinois - to Ohio -  in order to find cheap, non-GMO commodity soybeans he can plant without the threat of a patent infringement suit. Every time, he does this, he passes numerous grain elevators, all of which brim with soybeans.

The problem with the USA and

The problem with the USA and the world is it's filled with Stupid People.
There is a technology 6 thousand years old that will fix this problem it is called

study everything on these sites - watch all the videos
cough up the money to learn TM properly & sit twice a day in silence for 20 minutes
nature will come to save us

Eat only organic food. Preferably food you have grown yourself.

Protect yourselves and let the dumb ones die off eating Stupid Food

If you live in the USA travel to Fairfield Iowa - see their plans
for the future of our dear world ... the light glows bright there.
Good luck !

There's no point talking to

There's no point talking to Kevin Folta. He has much to lose by banning GMO products.

Who cares if he works for satan himself. I've debated him and debunked everything he has said here on these forums. All you need to know is that he's a snake oil salesman and will say and do ridiculous things to sell snake oil.

@Kevin Folta. I'll say this so a 6 year old can understand. We don't trust it. We don't want it. Choice is paramount. (Means most important).

This is the debate ending arguement. Done.

Murray, this attitude is

Murray, this attitude is directly comparable to religious fanaticism. Are you also a Creationist?

"No, it isn't interesting,

"No, it isn't interesting, Maderock. All living things have been getting genetically modified by mother nature since life began."

Mother Nature, yes...but NOT by splicing in the most toxic chemical of RoundUp into a plant that had never known such poison!

And YES!, madbrock, YES! I have been proclaiming the same thing. It is so obvious to me. HFCS, corn syrup, and soy lecithin are in virtually every single processed food on the shelf. We are systematically being poisoned, all so that some dangerous corporation like the maker of Agent Orange and bovine growth hormone can earn billions of dollars a year, and "OWN" our food.

Look at the rates of autism! I remember when the rate was one in 500. Before you know it, now the rate stands at one in 50!! RoundUp (Glyphosate) was first introduced and sold in the US in the 70's. They started experimenting with GMO seeds in the 80's, and won approval in the 90's. Now go to your search engine of choice and look at the graphs which show the rates of Autism since the 70's and their rise. We have grown fatter, and more diseased as a people. Not a coincidence at all, but hard to stop because they also "own" Washington DC.

As I suspected, Mispilates,

As I suspected, Mispilates, most of the commenters here don't even understand the issue. Monsanto doesn't splice the RoundUp chemical into the plant genome. They are splicing in a gene that makes the plant resistant to RoundUp.

@ JERRYBROWN 3/30, 6:52pm~ I

@ JERRYBROWN 3/30, 6:52pm~

I have no doubt the "history" you refer to indeed supports your assertion -- I was "taught" (selectively presented) that same history during my compulsory education years. It is your imprinting, and that of most.

However, that "history" is exceedingly colored and shaped by the paradigms that its drivers held, and still hold -- the one eventually embodied by Darwin's "survival of the fittest" notion, and then subsequently grotesquely twisted by those atop us to justify their anti-social behaviors.

I assert that the definition of "self-interest" that you are working from is far too narrow. For those among us who are not anti-socials, engaging in "altruism" feels good. Making oneself feel good is in one's self interest. There are a host of behaviors that are in one's self-interest.

Do you really mean to argue that Monsanto and their fellows covered the earth with dioxins, PCBs, DDT, aspartane, EDB, CCl4, etc., and are on the march to monopolize seed ownership and cover the earth with Roundup to "feed their children"? How many gazillions of dollars and how much immunity from lawsuits by writing your own special legislation does it take to feed one's children?

Yes, Bowman appears to have tried to game a deal he made with the devil, once he realized what he had foolishly gotten into bed with. And obviously he is still a duped foot-soldier of the better-living-through-toxic-chemicals camp. So what? Please tell me you understand that the "justice" and "protector of what is right" part of our court system is largely a platitude. Legal battle is a game. You select aspects as "evidence" and "legal theories" as arguments, and try to be more persuasive with your choices than the "other side" is. The "judge" is a referee, the jury a rewards committee told by the judge what their selection criteria are.

So, the real question is: Why are you rooting for the greater of evils? Why are you rooting for Goliath? What about doing that is in YOUR self-interest?

I'm not necessarily a fan of

I'm not necessarily a fan of Monsanto. But, I think it's important to stick with the facts and avoid wishful thinking.
And by the way, the problem may take care of itself. Many weeds are developing resistance to RoundUp. This is happening through the process that Darwin documented in Origin of the Species - natural selection. It seems that Mother Nature is better at genetic modification than Monsanto.

What is at stake here is not

What is at stake here is not patents but the loss of seed that has evolved in partnership with humans over millennia. Nature and seed have had an amazing partnership with humanity over millennia , to bring about the evolution of plant, more and more responsive and resilient to the unique environments in which people. We have survived and even thrived together based on the patience and observation of innumerable and unknown small farmers across the world, and history, who have selected for special traits in seeds, grown them and shared them with their neighbors. This very special partnership/symbiosis is in danger of being lost -- thousands of years of cooperation which has produced these priceless heirlooms.

Monsanto is poised to release 13 more GM crops that will then cross-pollinate with all manner of heirlooms. They will be lost, and make no doubt about it, we will be lost. Oil is going down and along with it GM seeds. It is just a matter of years -- not millennia. All you who fight for the right of "patents", make space in your hearts for the gift of seed given by our ancestors. It has always been natures gift to us. How can you patent this?

We own a really small {tiny}

We own a really small {tiny} (30 acres) farm by this reporters standards in Western upstate NY and it just amazes Me how any "farmer" who claim's loving his land would ever think that soaking his fields with an herbicide that kill's everything green dead to a point nothing grows except the seed the very same company's owns and sell's could be good for his land ? Explain that to me. If your water well is on your land and say you been ignorant or misinformed enough that you have been soaking your land down every season for the last 20 yr's wouldn't it be safe to say your water well has acted like a bucket or collection point of any run-off of say the very same round up that kill's everything green , how about your family are they well do they have immune system issues do you feed your dairy stock the silage feed you grow how is there health ? The pure hogwash Monsanto spouted about your high yields and low cost are they real or are they thru the roof ? Did any of you bother to read the book Monsanto had you sign the so-called agreement ? My tiny farm is 100% Monsanto"free" yes there was some changes in how we farmed for weed control but that was easily corrected and beneficial for the soil as well not to mention my peace of mind as I am no longer a Monsanto stooge . ANY FARMER who continues to plant "Round-up" ready crop knowing what we now know today is either insane or butt ignorant of what's happening in the world around him . It's way past time to go MONSANTO FREE .. GMO FREE ...

@RAGINGDEMO. Amen brother!

@RAGINGDEMO. Amen brother!

Isn't it interesting that the

Isn't it interesting that the rise in autism coincides with the increase in genetically modified organisms in our crops such as corn, soybeams, beets, etc., etc. I'm sure those cretons at Monsanto and Dupont have their food imported from countries such as Russia that prohibit the import of GMO foods. I'm sure they don't let their children eat their product.

No, it isn't interesting,

No, it isn't interesting, Maderock. All living things have been getting genetically modified by mother nature since life began.

@ KEVINFOLTA, 3/30, 12:31

@ KEVINFOLTA, 3/30, 12:31 pm

I seriously question the notion that the inability to patent innovations would constitute an over-chill on innovation. I have no trouble imagining that it would chill the investments in innovation made by persons whose motivation is primarily for wealth accumulation and/or dynastic power.

I hold these positions regarding all areas of innovation. But we are taking about plant characteristics here. So, I ask, did Albert Etter develop the myriads of tree fruit varieties he did because he would enjoy the fruits of patent protection?

Did the chemist who developed the formulation that is used to hold down all those reflectors on the pavement of roads throughout the country do so because they would enjoy the fruits of patent protection? Did they not put that "invention" into the public domain?

I say that not only is the notion that humans are only motivated by the opportunity to financially benefit beyond the social average BS, but that it demeans the human spirit and ignores that even our humaness is far more a cooperative affair between countless species constituting our physical structure than it is a competition between our "human" cells and the rest.

If patenting were to be declared null-and-void tomorrow, a new paradigm would begin to evolve, one I suggest would be far more harmonious with sustainable living than the one we are operating from now. Sure, there would be an initial slow-down in the pace of new technology roll-outs, but why would that be a bad thing? Only the intellectually blind or ostrich-like could not know about the countless destructive consequences of the technologies we have unleashed, and the inability of the systems to keep pace with them that we have wishfully put our faith in to curb them.

What if I am wrong? What if the absence of patent rights would severely chill private innovation? Would that not then place a higher public demand and thus result in a higher public support for research and development by public scientists? Is not a lack of such support something you, Kevinfolta, have oft decried?

History just doesn't support

History just doesn't support your ideas, mycophile. Most people are motivated by altruism to some degree. But, it won't feed your children.
Furthermore, this story demonstrates the power of self-interest. It was the self-interest of farmer Bowman that motivated him to devise a scheme to avoid paying for Monsanto's seeds.

The issue is bigger than

The issue is bigger than Monsanto or patent protection or intellectual property rights. The issue is bigness itself. Small farmers don't have a chance in the marketplace against giant corporations like Monsanto. Giant corporations, in turn, have a powerful incentive to drive out small and medium-sized competitors and they have the political, monetary, and legal resources to do it. The only hope for small businesses and small farmers, to say nothing of competitive markets, is for government to redress the great and growing imbalance between "small" and "big" in this country. In the last half century, "big" has all but driven "small" to extinction.

But, the article is not about

But, the article is not about bigness. It's about one farmer who tried avoid paying for something. Your argument is like saying that shoplifting is ok if it's only done in the stores of big companies.

Monsanto should be tried at

Monsanto should be tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Monsanto's GMO products are not made to produce better food, but to make more money for Monsanto. Studies done in Europe and Russia have shown Roundup leads to all kinds of damage including male sterilization. I'm all for protecting inventions via patents, but this is unacceptable. This is a case where the ends clearly negate the means.

Bowman's nobody's fool. He

Bowman's nobody's fool. He thought he had found a way to get Monsanto's genetically modified seeds without paying for them.
The article says, "For eight years, Bowman planted the commodity-grade soybeans for his second harvest, sprayed Roundup on them, harvested the plants that grew and kept the seeds they produced to plant later. It's these 'third generation' seeds that are at the heart of the Supreme Court case now."
It's clear from this that Bowman's intention was to obtain the benefits of Monsanto's seeds without paying Monsanto for them. By spraying the third generation of plants with Roundup he was insuring that the third generation would produce mostly Monsanto seeds.

The main reason SCOTUS sided

The main reason SCOTUS sided with Monsanto on this case is because Bowman used Roundup on his second harvest, effectively admitting that he knew they were Monsanto beans (all others would be killed by the Roundup application). So I don't have a lot of sympathy for Bowman in this case. He made a deal with the devil.

You got it.

You got it.

I bought a nice piece of art

I bought a nice piece of art from a local artist. Beautiful. It shows a the recent comet in a sunset with the moon. He sells them on the internet for about $50 each.

According to the anti-GMO logic, I should be able to take that artist's work to a local printer, print them for $2 each, and then sell them on the internet for $10 and keep the profits.

The same applies to music, software and any other invention.

It is not just Monsanto. My university has a plant line that is GMO but never commercialized, after 13 years in de-regulation (which everyone claims is a rubber stamp). When (if) it is ever deregulated we'll have to have patents and control of the plants. A farmer would have to buy one plant and within a few years could fill an orchard, for free.

Think about that. Should a company, university or government program develop plants, GMO or not, that they have to give away? It costs many years and millions of dollars. How could plant breeders keep producing improved cultivars?

It's easy to hammer on the big MON, but keep in mind that plant patents mostly help small breeders and companies protect their hard work. It is really important to have this protection.

Kevinfolta--you have yet to

Kevinfolta--you have yet to answer my question. Are you compensated in any way by the GMO industry?

And regarding your nice

And regarding your nice little piece of art analogy, can that nice piece of art make copies of itself? Is it a living thing?

If you're not an industry shill, you sure act like one.

Exactly! Kevinfolta is right.

Exactly! Kevinfolta is right.

"Monsanto should be wiped off

"Monsanto should be wiped off the planet along with anyone ever supporting them." along with EVERY other corporation involved in the process of destroying our ONLY Planet for short-term profits for the point 1 of 1%...

The real argument here is

The real argument here is simple:
No one can own the bean, but you can own the modification you made to the bean.
Monsatan's only motive for modifying the bean is to own the bean and therefore control the bean.

Anyone who has not seen or

Anyone who has not seen or read Food Inc. needs to. This type of bullying and harrassment has been going on for more than a decade. My heart bleeds for the poor farmers who get involved with Monsanto. Monsanto is literally the scourge of the earth and it will devour us all. If you keep reading, you will see the evidence that GMO products are killing us. Tumors, inflamed intestines, sterility, etc. If the American people don't wake up and fight this thing, then they will eventually be too sick to fight it. Oh, how complacent and sheeplike, we've become with our comfort and our distracting technology...

It is sad that our country is

It is sad that our country is being run by the power of money. Corporations such as Monsanto produce products that are damaging our health and our environment but nothing is done to correct this travesty. Monsanto exists only for profit.

Monsanto should be wiped off

Monsanto should be wiped off the planet along with anyone ever supporting them.
They are a clear and present danger to the future of humanity.

Perhaps if they had a hard time keeping their parasite lawyers alive it would slow them down.

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