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Corporate seed police

(July 20, 2001 – CropChoice opinion) – Indiana state legislators and farmers Dale Grubb (D-Covington) and Bill Friend (R-Macy) are working on legislation that they hope would help the state’s farmers to deal better with transgenic seeds and the companies that make them.

Dear Editor:

It has been demonstrated time and again that American farmers can compete with the rest of the world in food production. All they require is a level playing field, but policies in place both here and abroad are conspiring to keep that from happening.

The conduct demonstrated by European countries -- blocking our exports and subsidizing their products at higher levels -- indicates the importance they place on domestic food production. However, only greed and legal protections given corporate America can explain why they put U.S. farmers at a disadvantage to the world.

It may not concern multinational companies where the food that goes on American dinner tables comes from, but it makes a difference to the people of this state and this country. In a time when food safety, quality and stability of supply are important global issues, we must not place American food producers at a disadvantage by allowing unfair practices.

What are these practices? Consider the following:

* American farmers pay approximately three times more for seed and chemical inputs than what corporate agribusiness charges South American farmers.

* American farmers cannot save seed from GMO stock to replant the next year. South American farmers can.

* South American farmers pay no "technology or royalty fee" sometimes disguised in the seed price.

* American farmers can be sued for patent infringement if crops are contaminated through natural causes, such as wind-blown pollination or contamination of the seed at point of origin, as seed purity cannot be guaranteed.

* An American farmers' crop may be rendered undeliverable to a buyer if cross pollination or blending introduces a GMO gene into a non-GMO crop. When foreign and domestic buyers reject GMO commodities, the American farmer must accept the economic risks, even when contamination was beyond his control.

* Land grant universities in this country, supported by tax dollars, have been instrumental in developing biotechnology that has greatly enhanced production. Who owns this technology, patents and residuals ? Should legislation on intellectual property rights be revisited ?

* U.S. companies routinely send "seed police" to farms to make sure that no seed was saved for planting. The tests used during these checks can be unreliable do to sampling errors or being misread, a point demonstrated by a product being rejected at one elevator and accepted at another because of different test results on the same cargo. One bean in a thousand can give a positive reading. No South American farmer is required to go through this indignity.

Monsanto has been especially aggressive in pursuing legal action against farmers even when the facts point to no violation of current laws. Even if innocent of charges a farmer can be financially ruined by court costs, as is happening in several states. Corporate agribusiness is currently before the US Supreme Court arguing for even more protections .

As legislators and members of Indiana's agricultural community, we are working to educate our colleagues on the plight facing Hoosier and American farmers. During the recent session of the Indiana General Assembly, we offered several proposals that would protect our industry from the injustices of these issues. They included the following:

1. A producer of a non-GMO crop who harvests a crop that is unmarketable because of cross-pollination or blending from a GMO product would gain the ability to bring a civil action against the manufacturer for damages, costs and attorney fees.

2. A producer would have the right to use any seed grown from a commercially-produced stock in later crop years. These rights could not be waived through any contract and testing on the farm would require permission from the farmer or require a court order.

3. Seed labels should clearly state if a GMO gene exists, and where the seed originated.

4. Adequate compensation should be paid to universities by corporations who coop research which is marketed. Intellectual property rights legislation should be revisited so no one can monopolize the food supply.

5. A producer who possesses a GMO product created through natural contamination cannot be sued for patent or contract infringement by the GMO manufacturer.

6. If a crop is made unmarketable by contamination from a GMO gene, the manufacturer of that product will be liable if used according to label instructions.

7. A manufacturer who sells commercially-produced seed stock to a producer cannot require the purchaser to pay a fee in addition to the purchase price unless that fee is charged to all producers who acquire the commercially-produced seed stock.

8. Cash grain contracts should not require a level of purity the producer or elevator cannot supply given the fact seed stock cannot be guaranteed 100% GMO free.

9. Lobby the US Congress for fairness before patent protections are extended and balance the current statues so the farmer is not liable for items beyond his control.

This is a debate that deserves to take place beyond the halls of government. We encourage anyone who is interested in preserving the rights of American farmers to look at the crisis that is taking place, examine our proposals and offer their own suggestions.


F. Dale Grubb
D-Covington State Representative
Covington, IN 47932

Bill Friend
State Representative
3127 W 1500 N
Macy, IN 46957