Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bowman vs. Monsanto

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear Bowman v. Monsanto, a case that tests the patenting law. That’s about all you can say for it, because unless the Supremes overturn the entire history of Monsanto’s carefully-built legal structure, the decision will bring no changes to family farmers. The structure unfolded over roughly two decades, sort of like this: 1. Monsanto developed a soybean variety that could survive repeated drenching with Roundup, a powerful herbicide that killed every green thing in its path. Monsanto patented the seed, arguing that it was innovative. Then they sold it to farmers and, eventually, food processors, arguing that it was the same as normal soybeans. Indeed, if you buy non-organic soy milk, soy sauce, chocolate made with soy lecithin or any other soy products you are eating this innovative patented soybean. 2. Monsanto’s bean wiped out the ordinary beans all over North America. The first year they were out, farmers stopped cleaning their own seeds and saving them to re-plant. This changed centuries of tradition overnight. 3. Monsanto tested the strength of their patent in court. Many, many times. In 2002, the Supremes ruled that any seed could be patented, whether or not it was “innovative.” Now, Monsanto sees a new chance to test their legal structure, using a case against an old bean farmer from Indiana. As NPR began their story, “Why do so many people hate Monsanto? Is it because this multinational corporation pioneered some enormously successful genetically engineered crops, including corn, soybeans and cotton? Maybe, but I suspect that much of the passion is inspired by Monsanto's hard-line approach to ownership of those crops. Monsanto claims those seeds — and all offspring of those seeds — as its intellectual property. Farmers aren't allowed to save and replant any part of their harvest; if they do, Monsanto takes them to courtand demands large damages. Critics call the company bullying and ruthless.” So what this farmer, Bowman, did, is buy some cheap seeds that were not covered by Monsanto’s label. No patent fee, see? But, since all the beans in Indiana—94%--are Roundup-Ready, patented seeds, he knew they’d have the GMO trait. He sprayed them with Roundup, they survived, he took them to market and then refused to pay the patent fee. Monsanto sued. There ya go. It could be argued that one gene does not a patent make. Sort of like patenting a note on the scale and demanding a fee every time someone plays, say, a G. Or like patenting a color and demanding a fee from artists when they use, say, red. But the law has become so corrupt that an argument for patenting a G or the color red just might fly. Obviously, we need new strategies to kill this legal GMO monster. Farmers need to sue on the basis of side effects of this system, like cotton farmers needing to hand weed half the cotton crop because weeds can’t be killed by Roundup any more. Or folks with allergies should sue on the basis of not being able to kill ragweed with normal herbicides any more. Or farmers with cancer should sue on the basis of exposure to 2,4D or other known carcinogens that USDA has approved for our fields.

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