Over a decade ago, Monsanto sued two brothers who farm in Arkansas, John and Paul Mayfield, for saving and replanting 800 bushels of Roundup Ready soybeans. Monsanto filed a number of lawsuits, but unlike John and Paul Mayfield, most farmers settled out of court to avoid a protractive and expensive legal battle. At the time, Monsanto was investigating some 365 farmers for saving seed.
Although saving seed is a common practice for farmers, Monsanto prohibited the practice, and required farmers to buy new seed from the company every year. When buying seed from Monsanto, farmers are required to sign a contract stating they are not allowed to save any of the seed from their crop to plant the next season.
Because Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans are creations of the company, Monsanto patented their genetically engineered beans which are immune to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide; the genetic trait has been available in soybeans since 1996.
In their defense, John and Paul Mayfield argued that Monsanto had no right to patent plants in the first place. “Patent law is basically set up for machines and things of that sort, but not things that self-replicate,” said their attorney, who claimed patent law forbids people from recreating a machine or process someone else invented, but it doesn’t pertain to something like a soybean plant that naturally recreates itself. The legal system didn’t agree.
Monsanto set up a toll-free line for encouraging people to turn in farmers suspected for violating the company’s rules, and when Monsanto received a tip, they sent detectives out search farmers’ fields and go through their documents to find out how much seed farmers bought, and how much grain they sold to discover which farmers were saving seeds.
Monsanto’s attempts to monopolize the seed industry prompted soybean and other farmers to form the National Family Farm Coalition to combat the spread of genetically engineered crops. The coalition helped file a class action lawsuit against Monsanto and other seed companies that accuses the firms of trying to monopolize the seed trade with patented crops. The suit charged that Monsanto and other companies work together to fix prices and dominate the market.
Since then, as a result of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology — gene-modified seeds that inoculate plants against Roundup herbicide — hundreds of seed companies have failed in the last 20 years. Chris Holman, a patent lawyer who teaches at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, likens Roundup Ready technology to Microsoft and its dominant Windows operating system.
This seed monopoly results, of course, in price control. Farmers experience significant increases every year; and seed costs shot up almost 50 percent last year. But to a degree, farmers willingly fell into this trap themselves. “There’s nothing like Roundup. A monkey could farm with it,” says a Kansas corn and soybean farmer.
And as Jim Tobin, a vice president of Monsanto says, “Farmers get to vote every year before they plant, and it’s that vote each year that determines who has the largest market share or volume.”
Roundup Ready 1 Patent Expires 2014
Now 9 out of 10 soybean seeds carry the Roundup Ready trait. Monsanto has unprecedented control of the corn and soybean market. Their Roundup Ready corn is now planted on nearly 80 percent of the farmland acreage in the U.S., and Monsanto’s soybeans, with their Roundup Ready gene, is in 93 percent of U.S. soybean seeds.
But Monsanto’s patent on Roundup Ready 1 expires in 2014, and unless Monsanto can switch farmers over to their new Roundup Ready 2, they will lose a revenue stream of half a billion dollars a year in royalties.
Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, a competing seed company owned by DuPont, says Monsanto is forcing its licensees to do the same. He charges that Monsanto is trying to make Roundup Ready 1 disappear. “That’s our concern: bridging or switching from one patented product, Roundup Ready 1, to the next-generation Roundup Ready 2 Yield, doesn’t allow competition for the original technology,” Schickler says. DuPont suggests Monsanto is using incentives and penalties to switch the industry to the new product to extend their Roundup Ready monopoly.
Pioneer licenses the Roundup Ready trait from Monsanto, as do about 150 other seed companies. Last year, Monsanto sued to stop Pioneer from “stacking” Roundup Ready with another trait. Pioneer complained to the Justice Department, who launched a formal antitrust investigation of Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans.
At least seven states are investigating many of the same claims made by Dupont/Pioneer, as well as whether Monsanto illegally offered rebates to distributors who limit sales of competing seed. Farmers would like to buy cheaper generic soybean seed, but won’t be able to if Monsanto doesn’t make the gene traits in its Roundup Ready 1 soybean seed available to other companies. Farmers also worry about how Monsanto will handle continued registration of those gene traits in foreign countries.
West Virginia sues Monsanto over access to soybean data
West Virginia’s attorney general is suing Monsanto Co. for refusing to turn over information to support claims that the company’s biotech soybeans are as good as promised. Jeffrey Tomich with Checkbiotech.org reports that West Virginia began investigating claims surrounding Monsanto’s Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans after studies in 2009 by two universities and a pair of independent research firms questioned whether the new seeds delivered advertised yield gains.
Farmers “need to know if it is worth the extra money to buy new products that may not live up to the hype,” said Darrell McGraw, West Virginia’s attorney general, in a statement.
The subpoena seeks the names of the 20 largest seed companies that bought or license soybeans and the amount of annual payments received from each; copies of complaints about Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans; and documents related to efforts to switch farmers or seed companies to the new seeds.
Tomich notes that the investigation being conducted in West Virginia is similar to one in Arkansas. Last month, the Arkansas attorney general opened an investigation of Monsanto’s soybean marketing practices. Monsanto claims that 16,000 head-to-head comparisons in nine key soybean-growing states indicate Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans are yielding more than 3 bushels per acre more than first-generation Roundup Ready varieties.
Mike Ludwig with t r u t h o u t, reports that a leading embryologist at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School first released a study in 2009, published in the United States this past summer, that shows glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s popular Roundup formula caused deformations in chicken embryos that resembled the kind of birth defects being reported in areas like La Leonesa, a small farm town in Argentina, where big agribusinesses depend on glyphosate to treat genetically engineered crops.
The deformations resulted from much lower doses of herbicide than those commonly found on crops, according to the study. Monsanto patented glyphosate under the trade name Roundup in the 1970′s. We strongly recommend reading the entire t r u t h o u t article.
Additionally, Monsanto’s herbicide use has caused the rise of new glyphosate resistant weeds called “superweeds.” Like the GM corn and soy, these weeds have bred themselves to tolerate Roundup and are invading farms across the country.
In October, Monsanto announced a new program that offers millions of dollars in rebates to farmers who combine Roundup with more herbicides manufactured by the company’s competitors to combat the glyphosate-resistant weeds threatening GM crops across the country.
“The mere presence of superweeds and the fact that Monsanto is now paying farmers to spray additional chemicals that are more toxic than Roundup, is evidence of a complete regulatory breakdown, according to watchdog group Center for Food Safety (CFS)”.
William Freese, a CFS senior policy analyst who testified to Congress in September, said that the USDA regulates GM crops and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates herbicides, but there is no regulation of the combined system.
“And it is the system – the invariable use of glyphosate made possible and fostered by glyphosate-resistant seeds, for instance – that is responsible for the growing epidemic of glyphosate-resistant (GR) weeds,” Freese said in his testimony. “This is clearly demonstrated by the near complete absence of GR weeds for the first 20 plus years of glyphosate’s use and the explosion of weed resistance in the decade since the widespread adoption of Roundup Ready crop systems.”