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 growing season.
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 staggering 259 percent.
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.