When will Big Ag’s corrupt reign end?
J. D. Heyes
Feb 24, 2013
Agri-giant Monsanto, not satisfied with being one of the world’s largest
agricultural corporations, is dragging hundreds of U.S. farmers into court over
alleged copyright violations for repeated usage of the company’s patented
In a case that has surprised a lot of observers, the U.S. Supreme Court
agreed to hear one of these complaints on Feb. 19. That case, Bowman v.
Monsanto Co., was billed as a landmark battle pitting farmer Vernon Bowman
against the international Ag-giant over the former’s repeated use of seeds he
bought from Monsanto which the company says are only supposed to be used for one
In advance of the case, The Huffington Post reported, the Center
for Food Safety and the Save Our Seeds campaigning organizations
released a report detailing similar cases.
Price of seeds have skyrocketed
According to that report titled “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers,” which readers
can view here, Monsanto alleges seed patent
infringement in 144 lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in
at least 27 states, as of January of this year.
Combined, Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont hold more than half – 53 percent – of
the global commercial seed market, which the groups claim in their report has
led to a massive increase in the price of seed: Between 1995 and 2011, the
groups say the average cost of planting a single acre of soybeans rose a
whopping 325 percent, while corn seed prices climbed a
Monsanto especially says that seed
patents are a form of biological patent and that means the company’s seeds –
which are genetically modified to ward off bugs and weeds, though some strains
of each are becoming increasing resistant to them – are legally protected
inventions or discoveries in biology, HuffPo reported.
“In the case of Monsanto, that often means patents on genetically modified
seeds,” said the web-based newspaper. “In recent years, these and other
companies have taken farmers to court for alleged seed patent infringement –
meaning they planted seeds without paying for them.”
For the record, farmers have, for centuries, harvested seeds from the
current years’ crop so they could plant again next year; Monsanto and the others
have, in essence, made that time-tested practice illegal with a product that, according to reports, is not living up to
advertised standards of resistance.
That doesn’t matter to Monsanto and the other Ag-giants, but it does matter
to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the issue of patent infringement becomes less
clear when you consider that these farmers are growing subsequent crops with seeds they
initially purchased legally – even if the ag-giants consider such subsequent
planting a crime.
In the case of Bowman, he allegedly replanted second-generation seeds for
years, though he initially purchased them legally from a licensed Monsanto
distributor. He didn’t purchase new seeds each crop year, and because of that,
Monsanto says he essentially stole their product. The company has managed to win
a string of victories in lower courts.
The agricultural firm argues that its patents serve to protect its business
interests, and that they “provide a motivation for spending millions of dollars
on research and development of hardier, disease-resistant seeds that can boost
food yields,” Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.
Not resistant or eco-friendly enough
However, Bill Freese, one of the authors of the activist seed group report and a
senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety, said in a press release
that claims Monsanto’s patents are creating better crops are bogus.
“Most major new crop varieties developed throughout the 20th century owe
their origin to publicly funded agricultural research and breeding,” Freese wrote.
He also added that the GM crops weren’t as eco-friendly as advertised.
“While agrichemical corporations also claim that their patented seeds are
leading to environmental improvements, the report notes that upward of 26
percent more chemicals per acre were used on GE crops than on non-GE crops,
according to USDA data,” he said.
Some have attributed the dramatic decline in crop diversity in recent years
to the growth of a few ag-giants. In the report, the authors note that 86
percent of corn, 88 percent of cotton and 93 percent of soybeans grown in the
U.S. are currently GM strains.