By Sarah Dee
February 20, 2013
Tuesday, the Supreme Court “heard” the case of Bowman V. Monsanto Co., in which the mega-powerful food and chemical company is suing a small-time Indiana farmer whose only “crime” was looking for a cheaper source of seed outside of Monsanto’s federally backed monopoly.
In order to protect its genetically modified soybean seeds called Round Up Ready (so named because they are resistant to Monsanto’s weed-killer “Round-Up”), that have been on the market since 1996, farmers are contractually obligated to buy and use the seeds only once, to prevent copy-cats and patent infringement on the monster company’s cash cow of a seed. Mr. Vernon H. Bowen, tired of paying a high price for the genetically modified seeds each new growing season, decided to use soybean seeds from a local grain elevator instead of buying from the seed giant time and time again.
He figured that since these seeds were fathered from the Round Up Ready seeds they would also be resistant to weed-killer, and he figured right.
“He didn’t try to keep it a secret from Monsanto and in October 2007, the company sued him for violating its patent. Bowman’s is one of 146 lawsuits Monsanto has filed since 1996 claiming unauthorized use of its Roundup Ready seeds, Snively said [a Monsanto spokesman].
A federal court in Indiana sided with Monsanto and awarded the company $84,456 for Bowman’s unlicensed use of Monsanto’s technology. The federal appeals court in Washington that handles all appeals in patent cases, upheld the award. The appeals court said that farmers may never replant Roundup Ready seeds without running afoul of Monsanto’s patents (1).”
Of course the monolithic company would sue a 75 year old farmer for getting eight extra growing seasons out of seeds that have “their” patented genetic marker on them! Greedy is as greedy does. In a court hearing that was described by the New York Times as “freewheeling and almost entirely one-sided (2),” Bowen’s lawyer, had his work cut out for him.
“A lawyer for Monsanto, Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, was allowed to talk uninterrupted for long stretches, which is usually a sign of impending victory..At Tuesday’s argument, Mr. Bowman’s lawyer received a markedly more hostile reception than Mr. Waxman. He was peppered with skeptical questions from almost every justice (2).”
““Why in the world,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, “would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want? …Walters said that it was Monsanto’s approach that was extreme.”
“The reach of Monsanto’s theory,” Mr. Walters said, “is that once that seed is sold, even though title has passed to the farmer, and the farmer assumes all risks associated with farming, that they can still control the ownership of that seed, control how that seed is used.”
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that there were lots of things Mr. Bowman could do with the seeds he bought from the grain elevator.
“You can feed it to animals, you can feed it to your family, make tofu turkeys,” he said.
“But I’ll give you two that you can’t do,” he went on. “One, you can’t pick up those seeds that you’ve just bought and throw them in a child’s face. You can’t do that because there’s a law that says you can’t do it. Now, there’s another law that says you cannot make copies of a patented invention.””
You can read more from the hearing here, but it is clear that the Justices were feeling more of an affinity with the weed-killer GMO-king than the septuagenarian Mr. Bowman.
“Justice Breyer seemed in a particularly playful mood on Tuesday, at one point alluding to an infamous line from a 1927 opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. allowing the forced sterilization of a woman with mental disabilities. (“Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Justice Holmes wrote.)
“There are three generations of seeds,” Justice Breyer said, to knowing chuckles. “Maybe three generations of seeds is enough.””
Wow! Topping it off with an inappropriate joke referencing forced sterilization of the disabled? And yet does the Supreme Courts’ reaction really surprise anyone? Considering:
“The Obama administration also backs Monsanto, having earlier urged the court to stay out of the case because of the potential for far-reaching implications for patents involving DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies (1).”
So Monsanto has ties to the federal government? Who knew?
Let’s take a look at a few of the risks involved in the use and consumption of genetically modified soybeans. The Huffington Post reports that an organism that lives in the Round Up Ready crops can cause miscarriages in animals and disease in plants. This discovery so concerned Purdue University’s Emeritus Professor Don M. Huber that he wrote an open letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“Recent research claims that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified crops contain an organism, previously unknown to science, that can cause miscarriages in farm animals….Huber wrote an open letter to Vilsack requesting a moratorium on deregulating Roundup Ready crops. Huber states that Roundup Ready has a high concentration of an animal pathogen connected to “plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions.” Huber finishes his letter by stating, “It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure (3).”
So what about the effects on humans you ask?
In “The Problem with the Safety of Roundup Ready Soybeans” by Judy Carman, MPH, PhD of Flinders University, Australia, the journal critiques Monsanto’s studies citing the safety of the genetically modified seeds, since they do not consider all possible hazards associated with ingesting these altered foods over time.
“In summary, I believe that the scientific basis, provided by the applicant company for considering that Roundup Ready soybeans are safe for animal and human consumption, is seriously flawed. No other, independent investigations seem to have been done. It could be expected that the safety assessments of other genetically modified foods may be as flawed.
Independent testing of these foods is urgently required, incorporating long-term animal and human experiments. As these will take years, it would be wise to place on a moratorium on these foods for 5 years, as suggested by European groups, while these investigations are done. To do otherwise could be likened to permitting a giant feeding experiment on millions of people.
Furthermore, the description that oils and other products derived from genetically-modified foods contain no genetically modified material is also flawed. It could not be expected that such products would be so pure that they would contain nil plant tissue or genetic material or protein. To expect this would be to expect the equivalent of analytical-reagent grade chemical purity from a food-stuff. These products also need rigorous testing, as described above.
Finally, the applicant companies appear to be resisting the labelling of genetically-modified foods or their derived products, such as oils. In countries where these foods and their derivatives are permitted, they should be labelled so that consumers can make their own decision about whether to buy them or not, and so that consumers can reassess their decision as information is provided about the relative safety of these products over the next few years (4).”