Monsanto’s Death Grip on Your Food

Fritz Kreiss
Occupy Monsanto / News Report
Published: Wednesday 20 March 2013
It increasingly appears that Monsanto is patenting death, perhaps even more so than life.
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Monsanto’s near-monopoly gives the company the right to control access to a staple food item that is found in a wide range of consumer products.

Monsanto has yet another case pending in the court system, this time before the U.S. Supreme Court on the exclusivity of its genetically modified seed patents. Narrowly at issue is whether Monsanto retains patent rights on soybeans that have been replanted after showing up in generic stocks rather than being sold specifically as seeds, or whether those patent rights are “exhausted” after the initial planting. But more broadly the case also raises implications regarding control of the food supply and the patenting of life—questions that current patent laws are ill-equipped to meaningfully address.

On the specific legal issues, Monsanto is likely to win the case (they almost always do). The extant facts make this a relatively poor platform to serve as a test case of Monsanto’s right to exert such expansive powers. The farmer in this situation had previously purchased Monsanto soybeans for planting (back in 1999), and in this instance bought previously harvested soybeans with the intention of planting them – even spraying Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on them in the hopes that at least some of the generic stock would be of the so-called “Roundup Ready” variety.

Despite this unfortunate posture, the case does provide another opportunity for critical inquiry regarding the unprecedented and perverse level of control Monsanto is asserting over the food supply. It is estimated that 90 percent of the soybeans in the U.S. are genetically modified and thus subject to potential patents. A random handful of soybeans procured anywhere is likely to contain at least some Monsanto-altered beans. Such a near-monopoly effectively gives Monsanto the right to control access to a staple food item that is found in a wide range of consumer products.

Other variations on this theme include pollen from Monsanto corn (similarly dominant in the U.S. market) pollinating a farmer’s crop, or seeds from Monsanto-engineered grains being distributed by animals, winds, or waterways and commingling with non-GMO plantings. In each case, Monsanto could have a cause of action against an unwitting farmer by claiming patent infringement.

More broadly, and unlikely to be addressed in the instant case, is whether Monsanto (or any other company) should be able to patent seeds – the core of global food supplies, and thus of sustenance for billions of people—in the first place. Activists will decry the fact that Monsanto is patenting life, and this is indeed an Orwellian (or perhaps a Huxleyan) prospect, to be sure. Yet I would submit that Monsanto is actually patenting death, which is potentially even more disconcerting.

Consider that by exerting this level of control over the food supply, Monsanto is rapidly creating a world in which people have to pay fealty to the corporation in order to grow food and/or consume it. In this sense, Monsanto gains enormous power to determine who is allowed to eat – and thus who lives or dies. Consider further that Monsanto’s patents also include technologies in which seeds are sold that cannot propagate themselves, resulting in plants terminating rather than perpetuating, requiring farmers to have to go back to the “company store” in order to replant their fields.

In the case currently before the Court, shades of the latter issue are present, with the question being whether the seeds of the seeds of Monsanto creations retain their exclusive patent rights—possibly in perpetuity. This sort of argument might give us cause to wonder whether an animal (or even a human being, someday?) who consumes these proprietary foods could be implicated in such assertions if they are somehow genetically altered in the process. Perverse slippery slopes aside, the permeation of patentable materials throughout the food chain is by now a clear and present danger.

These are troubling trends indeed. Monsanto wants the right to exert perpetual control, and with it the power to make decisions about who/what lives or dies. In addition to seed patents, their corporate creations include herbicides, pesticides, and biocides that toxify soils and poison waters. Genetically modified foods increasingly dominate the U.S. food supply (and supplies elsewhere, at least where they haven’t been explicitly banned) despite insufficient testing and concerns about their health impacts. The ability of corporations like Monsanto to continue plying such products with little oversight constitutes a de facto consumer beta test on a mass level, the full effects of which may not be known for decades, if ever.

Taking all of this together, it increasingly appears that Monsanto is patenting death, perhaps even more so than life. Their patent rights should not trump the rights of people to procure safe, healthy, living foods. Whatever the result in the Supreme Court case, we should roundly deem Monsanto a loser in the court of public opinion, and strive to loosen their death grip on our food supply.

A version of this article originally appeared on Alternet



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ABOUT Fritz Kreiss

Fritz Kreiss is the founding head of Occupy Monsanto. He has a history in natural health, nutrition, herbal medicine, Eastern Medicine, acupuncture, kinesiology, physiology, and many years of practice as a professional massage therapist and teacher.

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7 comments on "Monsanto’s Death Grip on Your Food"

madbrock

March 22, 2013 1:08am

Monsanto does not care if any case goes to the US Supreme Court because Justice Clarence Thomas has in the past and will in the future always vote in favor of Monsanto. He was employed as Monsanto's legal advisor prior to being appointed to the Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush. Thomas is nothing but a low life who really has no business being on the court. He is so right wing conservative and so arrogant he did not recuse himself from the last Monsanto suit that came before the court.

Dave Moff

March 20, 2013 1:57pm

Plant patents have been issued since 1930. While I cannot imagine that they were created with the idea of protecting GMO plants in mind, one cannot fault Monsanto for using all means necessary to protect its property. Let them accept full title over and therefore responsibility for it. And when the other shoe drops, they'll be fully on record as owners when the time comes to file lawsuits.

FranCSI

March 20, 2013 12:01pm

Once they - Monsanato, Conagra, Bayer, Dupont, ADM, Elanco - grasp total control we will never see natural food again - it must stop now. Since when are we allowing patenting of natural foods for the rights of individual profits??? Our supreme court has lost it way in huge ways. They have no moral compass

darkmark

March 20, 2013 11:59am

1, i would think there's just as good a case for having monsanto remove its pollutants from plants that farmers bought thinking were free of monsanto's genetic engineering. 2, if they have a death grip on our food we should have one on their throats. especially if the courts find in favor of their fascist friends.

gustavk24

March 20, 2013 10:49am

Please credit the true author, Randall Amster of Counterpunch. This article was reposted, not written by me.
http://www.occupymonsanto360.org/2013/03/19/monsantos-death-grip-on-your...

mlane78212

March 20, 2013 10:10am

I am even more concerned about this issue than I am about climate change and that's saying a lot. It defies reasoning and every value I have to think how powerful Monsanto is. They are truly evil and will, unless checked, control the world. Life as we knew it is ending.

NastyHabits

March 20, 2013 2:20pm

I'm you with on this. While I'm concerned about all progressive issues, Monsanto and GMOs tops my list. Monsanto should be tried for crimes against humanity at the Hague.