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Kimbrell and Barke write: "Yesterday, attorneys for the largest agrochemical corporation in the world, Monsanto, presented arguments before the Supreme Court asserting the company's rights to the generations of seeds that naturally reproduce from its genetically modified strains."

A farmer is seen holding Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo.  (photo: Dan Gill/AP)
A farmer is seen holding Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo.  (photo: Dan Gill/AP)

Monsanto, the Court and the Seeds of Dissent

By George Kimbrell, Debbie Barke, The Los Angeles Times

20 February 13


n Tuesday, attorneys for the largest agrochemical corporation in the world, Monsanto, will present arguments before the Supreme Court asserting the company's rights to the generations of seeds that naturally reproduce from its genetically modified strains. Bowman vs. Monsanto Co. will be decided based on the court's interpretation of a complex web of seed and plant patent law, but the case also reflects something much more basic: Should anyone, or any corporation, control a product of life?

The journey of a 75-year-old Indiana farmer to the highest court in the country began rather uneventfully. Vernon Hugh Bowman purchased an undifferentiated mix of soybean seeds from a grain elevator, planted the seeds and then saved seed from the resulting harvest to replant another crop. Finding that Bowman's crops were largely the progeny of its genetically engineered proprietary soybean seed, Monsanto sued the farmer for patent infringement.

The case is a remarkable reflection on recent fundamental changes in farming. In the 200-plus years since the founding of this country, and for millenniums before that, seeds have been part of the public domain - available for farmers to exchange, save, modify through plant breeding and replant. Through this process, farmers developed a diverse array of plants that could thrive in various geographies, soils, climates and ecosystems. But today this history of seeds is seemingly forgotten in light of a patent system that, since the mid-1980s, has allowed corporations to own products of life.

One of Monsanto's arguments is that when farmers save seed from a crop grown from patented seed and then use that seed for another crop, they are illegally replicating, or "making," Monsanto's proprietary seeds instead of legally "using" the seeds by planting them only one time and purchasing more seeds for each subsequent planting.

This logic is troubling to many who point out that it is the nature of seeds and all living things, whether patented or not, to replicate. Monsanto's claim that it has rights over a self-replicating natural product should raise concern. Seeds, unlike computer chips, for example, are essential to life. If people are denied a computer chip, they don't go hungry. If people are denied seeds, the potential consequences are much more threatening.

Although Monsanto and other agrochemical companies assert that they need the current patent system to invent better seeds, the counterargument is that splicing an already existing gene or other DNA into a plant and thereby transferring a new trait to that plant is not a novel invention. A soybean, for example, has more than 46,000 genes. Properties of these genes are the product of centuries of plant breeding and should not, many argue, become the product of a corporation. Instead, these genes should remain in the public domain.

The seed industry also claims that if patents are made narrower in scope, innovation, such as devising environmentally sustainable ways to farm, would be stifled. However, evidence casts doubt on the prevalent assumption that positive environmental impacts have resulted from their seed technologies.

Take the example of the genetically engineered soybean in question. Its innovative trait is that it is resistant to the herbicide Roundup, whose primary ingredient is glyphosate. However, weeds are developing a rapid resistance to glyphosate.

In January, Farm Industry News reported that the area of U.S. cropland infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds expanded to 61.2 million acres in 2012. These "super weeds" are gaining momentum, increasing 25% in 2011 and 51% in 2012.

In response, farmers resort to more soil-eroding tillage operations to combat the weeds, and they turn to more toxic chemicals. Based on data from the USDA, as much as 26% more pesticides per acre were used on genetically engineered crops than on conventional crops.

And what is the industry's response? Monsanto is planning to seek approval for dicamba-resistant soybeans, corn and cotton. Dow AgroSciences is seeking USDA approval of soybeans and corn resistant to 2, 4-D, an active ingredient in Agent Orange. It is difficult to understand how such innovation is enhancing the environment.

Finally, the agrochemical industry claims that its seed innovation has provided farmers more choices. Yet the market concentration of 10 agrochemical companies owning about two-thirds of global commercial seed for major crops has narrowed the choice of seeds for farmers and resulted in higher seed prices. Over an 11-year period, the cost per acre of planting soybeans has risen a dramatic 325%.

Our organizations interviewed hundreds of farmers across the nation for a recent report, "Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers." They explained that the high adoption rate of genetically engineered seed is largely because the companies have stopped offering conventional seed. One way to recoup the high investment that Monsanto and others say is spent on genetic engineering is to ensure that farmers have few other purchasing options.

When arguments from both sides have been presented, the Supreme Court justices will have to thoroughly consider the many complexities of patent law as it pertains to self-replicating organisms. But taking a few steps back from the microscope and the lawbooks, they may find that there is a discussion to be had about a much deeper question: the appropriate role of ownership and control over the very elements of life.

George Kimbrell is the senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety and Debbie Barker is the program director of Save Our Seeds and the international director of the Center for Food Safety. your social media marketing partner


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+28 # randrjwr 2013-02-20 09:59
We see again the message on the bumper stickers: "Mother Nature bats last."
+24 # SundownLF 2013-02-20 10:57
And another bumper sticker message: 'There is no Planet B'!
+43 # DPM 2013-02-20 10:06
I have no confidence that the Supreme court will decide this case in favor of "humanity". Money rules. In any case, good luck, Mr. Bowman.
+7 # ruttaro 2013-02-20 20:21
Prior to Justice Thomas taking the vow of silence on the court, he was hired as legal counsel by Monsanto. Your lack of confidence is very understandable.
+21 # RnR 2013-02-20 10:09
It is an indication of the shortage of positions available for attorneys that any of them would consider working for this massive overload of dumpster contents...ripe at that :)
+32 # freedoverseas 2013-02-20 10:39
The judges should remember their family ancestors - certainly farmers, as almost anyone's elders. Then posing the question where we would be now if a hundred years ago, some powerful farmers had taken away the possibility to reproduce seeds, the judgement will be very clear. How anyone in their right mind can claim to be God (owning rights for seeds!), and in this bring hundreds of thousands to commit suicide (cotton farmers in India which could no longer afford these one-time seeds with its combined chemicals). While that same company is most probably responsible for the massive bee decline (through nicotinoides) bringing people all over the world to worry about survival of any crops and plants. So on the one side, Monsanto accuses a growing number of individuals to infringe, while at the same time they spread their produce unwanted. Whatever the verdict will be, hopefully counter-lawsuit s can turn the tide.
+7 # Kev C 2013-02-20 15:49
Monsanto haven't been responsible for the neonicotinoids. Bayer and Syngenta are the main culprits. Hark at me defending the arch criminals of humanity and nature. That is a first for me. However I would rather people win arguments against these evil corporations with correct evidence and no be caught out on one minor technicality. Monsanto are good at winning on technicalities. Or more likely plain ignorance on the part of the people in powerful positions.
Anyway to add a point of interest a question that Monsanto and all biotech monster corporations need to be asked is 'Have you ever created life?'
The simple answer to that is 'No!' So they are not therefore able to claim to have done so with regards any and all their patent applications, past' present and future for these GMO's. These patents are all for lifeforms that they claim to have created but they cannot so claim when these lifeforms are derived from pre-existing lifeforms. If you believe in 'God(s)' then he/she/they created life. If you believe in evolution they naturally evolved into the various forms that exist today. They predate the existence of Monsanto et all.
So what part of not being god do Monsanto not get
+50 # Reductio Ad Absurdum 2013-02-20 10:59
Monsanto should be sued for contaminating grain elevators, farm equipment and neighboring acres with their GM products.
+35 # Jean Louise 2013-02-20 11:06
It would seem logical that once a farmer buys seeds and plants them that the resulting crop and seeds would become his property to do with as he sees fit. But then, I thought it logical that hanging chads should heve been counted, corporations are not people, etc., etc..I guess there's logic, and then there's Supreme Court logic.
+24 # Todd Williams 2013-02-20 11:19
As an organic gardner, I am always looking for non-GMO seeds from small suppliers. These are available albeit at a higher cost. Then you collect seeds from the harvested crops and plant them the next year. I know plenty of Amish farmers who use the same methods to plant their crops and have been doing so for many, many years. The way to fight
+27 # Todd Williams 2013-02-20 11:23
I am an organic gardner who plants non-GMO seeds and then uses the seeds from the harvested plants to plant next year's crop. Amish farmers that I know have been doing this for many years. They distrust Monsanto and the other agri boys and want nothing to do with their seeds and their chemicals. My advice is to grow as much as you can and buy the rest from small farmers and gardners. This hurts Monsanto and the others in the pocketbook.
+28 # Buddha 2013-02-20 11:26
Farmers should wake up and stop doing business with Monsanto. There are other seed co-ops, and plenty of studies that have shown that with natural non-GMO seeds, and wise stewardship of the land with proper crop rotation, you actually get higher yields and healthier soil, not to mention less need for pesticides and herbicides. This is just one more case for what SEEMS to be cheaper in the short run actually ends up being more costly and damaging and less sustainable in the long-run.
+19 # cafetomo 2013-02-20 11:28
Own the seed, own the farmer.

The US Constitution states that patents are intended to “promote the progress of science.” This could not be more at odds with this ideal, and humanity as a whole.

Edward R. Murrow interviewed Salk: “Who owns the patent on this vaccine?” Murrow asked. “Well, the people, I would say”, Salk replied. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Do we really want to find out?
-2 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 15:39
It depends upon what you see as 'science.' Monsanto's scientists see science as a religion, the tenants of which cannot be question. The FDA agrees.

Obama agrees. Obama is popular and adored.

Now what?
0 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 15:42
That was back when we had a government.

Since then, out government has evaporated.

In its place is a herd of professional fakers.
+18 # massager2002 2013-02-20 11:38
It is not logical that Monsanto, while supposedly doing much to alleviate hunger in the world, is also seeking to dominate the food chain supply with their GMO seeds.
It is not logical that we as consumers, have continued to look the other way at the foods we eat and how far from reality of wholesomeness their foods really are.
It is NOT logical that we have continued to TRUST that all the pertinent and necessary tests were done to approve these GMO foods use for human consumption, or for feed for animals destined for human consumption.
There is NO logic in profits at all costs for foods that are a required for day-to-day LIFE_GIVING consumption.
When we consumers decide that our health is more important than having CHEAP foods, then maybe we can TAKE DOWN these behemoths that have no place in our world.
+3 # Kev C 2013-02-20 15:55
Monsanto and all the other biotechs have never to this day fed starving people with their seeds any better then non GMO seeds have and will continue to do. In fact they have failed miserably to even come close to matching non gm seed crop returns.
As for buying non gm seeds the truth is there are far more farmers needing non gm seed than there is a ready supply of these seeds to supply them. Sad but true.
+11 # cmp 2013-02-20 11:55
We are only bathing in, cooking with and drinking their toxic waste in the forms of pesticides, herbicides, insecticdes and fertilizers each and every day from our surface and ground waters... And, across the world, our water use has tripled in the last 50 years.
+19 # Floridatexan 2013-02-20 11:56
Monsanto executives should be forced to eat only their genetically modified garbage. I'm sure they'd change their tune in a hurry...from their hospital beds.
+5 # Kev C 2013-02-20 15:56
They refuse point blank to serve gm food in their staff cafeteria. So much for having confodence in your own products. Work that one out.
+9 # Dr Peter Sloane 2013-02-20 12:20
Watched a really informative film - "The World According to Monsanto" An eye-opener if ever I saw one. Frightened the living daylights out of me. I do hope that Mr Bowman wins this or we're all in deep trouble.
+11 # reiverpacific 2013-02-20 12:39
Don't expect much from this SCOTUS crowd, especially Thomas whose only words uttered recently after a four year silence on the bench (of course his string-puller Scalia does all the straight-man gabbling) were incomprehensibl e gibberish.
Monsanto are arch-criminals with battalions of lawyers who have allegedly "patented" -really invaded- millennia-old crops like Atta (Chapati) flour and Basmati rice which have sustained communities for thousands of years and are now polluted and expensive, which pressures have cause many hundreds of Indian and Bangladeshi farmers to commit suicide as they can't afford to sow, reap and sell at prices their own merchants and consumers can afford.
Talk about bent corporate economics? If this is feeding more, needy people, I'm a bald Eagle.
+12 # oakes721 2013-02-20 12:49
The same Supine Court that inserted the loser as president in the White House cannot be trusted to rule against corporate monopolies. Any good farmer knows that you've got to grow the soil ~ not remove every living thing by making it toxic. Monsanto is so deep in denial that they should be regarded as criminally insane.
+5 # Kev C 2013-02-20 16:01
Try Ecocidally insane. Before we go much further we need to introduce the law of Ecocide and include agrochemical companies as criminals against humanity because of the damage they have forced the farmers to commit using false promises, damn lies and dodgy research results.
Ey have brainwashed the people in charge as well. Its called putting your own people in charge.
+11 # propsguy 2013-02-20 13:06
what's next? patenting human genes so they can charge you for reproducing? charge you a tax for every minute you live while you carry "their" proprietary genes? wake up folks, that's what's coming
0 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 15:35
That can't be next. "Natural biological substances themselves can be patented (apart from any associated process or usage) in the United States if they are sufficiently "isolated" from their naturally occurring states. Prominent historical examples of such patents on isolated products of nature include adrenaline, insulin, vitamin B12, and gene patents."

It can't be next because it is already the law.
+14 # Shirley in Berkeley 2013-02-20 13:29
None of this is about feeding the world, it's about agribusiness greed and the scientists who depend on Monsanto and its like for grant money and are not concerned about the ethics of where their funding is coming from. Monsanto means to control the world's food supply and they have the means to crush all opposition. If the Supreme Court does not stop them now, private farming will be crushed forever. Monsanto's Round-Up ready seed? It's just a method for using Monsanto's poisonous spray without killing the crop plants.
0 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 15:33
That is exactly correct.

And for putting that truth in print, you may well be fingered by Obama's underlings as aiding and abetting terrorism.
+6 # Walter J Smith 2013-02-20 15:31
This may be the wrong "basic question": "Should anyone, or any corporation, control a product of life?" The more appropriate basic question in this case may be, "should anyone, or any corporation, be allowed to market as "food" any product widely known to cause major illnesses, disease, and economic disaster for the planters, the agricultural families who use the feed for animals, and the people who consume products make with these seeds?

See the book or the movie: "Genetic Roulette." Because that is what Monsanto and its ilk are doing with our human and with mother nature's overall gene pools.

To suppose otherwise is either willful deception, or astonishing ignorance.
+1 # angelfish 2013-02-20 15:33
Monsanto ISN'T God! If anything, they are Spawn of the Devil and need to be eradicated. If there IS a God, and I KNOW there IS, I hope He intervenes on the side of the Farmer.
+4 # DRPJJ 2013-02-20 16:06
Another aspect of this crime of genetically engineering (GE) plants to become richer, is that they have found a way to not only GE the plants, but rob them of any nutrition. Tomatoes and other plants grown in sand has removed most of their natural nutrients -sand provides no nurishment to the plant - so that we are really destroying human life from within. They would have you believe the answer is to add vitamins in form of pills to your diet. American spending on such "additives" is higher in US than any other country - another win for large pharmaceutical companies.
Again all about the money especially when those "vitamins" are little more than chalk in most instances.Do you suppose they and big business are in cahoots?
+5 # 2013-02-20 16:43
Ultimately Farmers must inundate Monsanto with trespass suits, requiring them to physically remove windblown and other unmarked Monsanto owned Seeds ulluting their land, crops, nate=ure and even public parks and road reserves etc.

When Monsanto faces a million claims against them trespoassing and spreading monopoly protected seeds and pollen etc that they caused to exist, I think they will give up.

They can't claim ownership property rights on the one hand and then avoid facing cleanup and compaensations when their property offends others and State Laws like anti-monopoly laws. Even Bill Gates Microsoft couldn't defeat that law when he was the monopolist.

Citizens must fight Citizen Corps with fire as they fight people with fire.
+2 # WallStWallFlowerGirl 2013-02-20 18:34
I'm reminded of a childhood song that goes something like, "...the knee-bones connected to the leg bone; the leg bones connected to the foot bone..."

Monsanto is connected to the big-oil-bone; the big-oil-bones-c onnected to the big-pharma-bone ; the big-pharma-bone s connected to the health-industry-bone..."

All corporations are connected by one thing: MONEY (avarice, in fact). People shouldn't ingest chemicals but when they do, some get sick. Sick people use pharmaceuticals , which is connected to the doctor, who is connected to the hospital & because everyone drives every where to get everything, or uses plastic (oil by-product), big oil is the blood that keeps them all alive $ well.

Check out Forbes Top CEO (to date) & you'll see the faces of the bodies that play Operation w/lives daily. Nothing but an official, state-to-state, NON-partisan person-to-perso n boycott of the Common Man/Woman will enact change in America.

If corporations are "people," then they're liable for all the same things Citizen Average is subject to: paying taxes & paying penalties for breaking the law. The only way that will happen is holding responsible ALL politicians connected to corporations- and fire them. Left, right, center... doesn't matter. If we don't do this sooner than later, Operation will end w/a flat-line for anyone not connected to Monsanto.
+2 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2013-02-20 20:30
Part I
According to current news on Bowman v. Monsanto Company, No. 11-796, the Supreme Court seems to be siding with Monsanto. It seems the rationale is all about money. Companies like Monsanto would never invest the millions of dollars to create a new product and patent it if they could only own the first generation, so their argument goes. Monsanto thinks they have a good lawsuit and a good marketing strategy. But they are wrong. They think that by locking up THEIR seed forever, they will corner the market on ALL seed. However, where it is all about the money to Monsanto, there are more issues than just money for farmers. For generations seed companies have developed new strains, patented them and made money without laying claim to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation seeds, yea unto the end of time. In the past if a farmer "discovered" a new strain (mutation) in his crop, it was his. If Monsanto has its way, it will be Monsanto's. No credit (or money) to the farmer for the discovery. Then there is the issue of super weeds and the progressively greater quantities of herbicides they require (yet more money out of the farmer's pocket). Add in the supposed decrease in nutritional value and the possibility of GMO foods contributing to increases in illness and you have a fertile field, pardon the pun, for an explosive growth in the businesses that produce non-GMO seeds.
+2 # Diane_Wilkinson_Trefethen_aka_tref 2013-02-20 20:31
Part II
Part of Monsanto's strategy was to buy out non-GMO companies by offering them far more than they were worth. However, the remaining pool of non-GMO competitors believe in their products AND the reduced number of such companies means that they can, and do, charge higher prices. Thus they have little incentive to sell out to Monsanto. They also tend to have a higher regard for old fashioned quality. So if Monsanto wins this case, you the farmer will have a choice:

1) A seed that is Round-Up ready but will cost you the going rate for EVERY planting till the end of time AND contribute to Round-Up ready super weeds so you need to double and more the amounts of herbicides you use or
2) A seed that is just a seed, you own it, can replant next year from its fruit and it doesn't require massively more herbicides to compete with the super weeds that are not on your land.

Factor in the thousands of years of reliable safety that exists for foods grown from non-GMO seeds and it's not hard to see that in a few years, Monsanto may well rue its short-sighed greed.
0 # jsheats 2013-02-23 00:42
I dislike Monsanto's actions for many reasons (most of all that its products contaminate the fields of people who don't want them, and then they have the gall to sue those people for using their product without permission!!!). However, I think the seed patent issue is not so simple. The creation of novel plant properties through genetic engineering does fit the definition of invention that underlies patents. On the other hand, it is also true that other inventions are not self-replicating.

In the past, seed companies created novel seeds through the "genetic engineering" process of breeding. They did not attempt to control their reproduction, and yet those companies (some at least) prospered. So patent protection of this progeny seems not to be an economic necessity.

The best solution, as many others here have noted, is just to not buy Monsanto's seeds. Small companies in this business could benefit from cooperative associations to get the economies of scale that they need to compete against the behemoths. But I think that new laws are needed regarding seed patents. It is too idealistic to expect a rational political discussion of these issues in Congress right now, but that is what should happen.

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