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Monsanto engineers the road to serfdom

by Robert Schubert
Cropchoice.com editor

(May 28, 2001 –Cropchoice opinion) – Those who exercise dominion over seed control the food and fiber of the world. This is exactly what the agriculture-biotechnology-chemical giant Monsanto is doing by patenting transgenic seeds. To defend these patents, it's persecuting farmers, most notably Percy Schmeiser and the Nelsons.

Problem is, this technology is running amok and Monsanto is doing nothing to control it. The herbicide-resistant and pest-killing genes that Monsanto inserts into soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton are spreading to conventional and organic varieties. The main reasons are impure seed, contaminated planting and harvesting equipment, cross-pollination, wind, and the inability to segregate these varieties during processing and distribution.

Rather than respect the views of farmers and consumers who would rather not go down the genetically engineered path, Monsanto cares only about its sacred plant patents. The company is suing hundreds of farmers on the grounds of patent infringement.

In an incredibly inane legal decision, Canadian federal court judge Andrew MacKay ruled that Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser had infringed the patent on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready canola just because it was on his land. Even the fact that a neighbor had grown the transgenic canola next to land that Schmeiser would seed the following year – Monsanto divulged this information just before the trial – made no difference.

What’s more, once the conventional seed that Schmeiser had been developing for 50 years exhibited Roundup Ready genetics, it became the property of Monsanto.

The judge ordered him to pay all the profits from his 1998 crop – about C$20,000 – to the company. This included money he made from a field that showed no signs of foreign genes. The judge included that in the decision because of the "probability" that it was contaminated.

Since virtually all of the canola in western Canada now packs some Roundup-resistant genes, the ruling means that Schmeiser will have to destroy his crops, send the harvest to Monsanto, or break down and buy its seed. Open to question is whether any other plants, such as dandelions or buckwheat, that have gained resistance to Roundup must be pulled and sent to Monsanto.

While Schmeiser plants wheat and oats, and raises money to appeal the decision, the Nelsons of North Dakota await the establishment of a venue in Monsanto’s case against them.

Roger Nelson and his sons Rodney and Greg farm almost 8,000 acres of land in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. Monsanto charges that they saved seed from their 1998, 1999 and 2000 crop of Roundup Ready soybeans, an infringement of its patent (www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=244).

However, the North Dakota Seed Arbitration Board issued a non-binding ruling that found no evidence to support Monsanto’s claim. The Nelsons paid for their seed, including the technology fee, each of those years. (www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=326 ).

This decision did little to dissuade Monsanto from continuing its lawsuit in federal court. In response to the Board hearing and ruling, the company said the case deals with a patent violation, not a dispute over seed. Go figure.

Just as Microsoft monopolizes the computer industry, Monsanto dominates agriculture. Apparently, making fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides wasn’t enough. Now it wants to control seed. If this keeps up, Monsanto will be lord of the manor and the farmers will be…the serfs.

One wonders what government is doing to protect farmers. The answer is not much, as Canadian growers of heritage and organic wheat learned.

"We have to protect the interest of the developers of these sorts of crops," Stephen Yarrow of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told them.

To help the Nelsons set up a website about their struggle against Monsanto, please send an e-mail to editor@cropchoice.com.
To donate money to Percy Schmeiser for his appeal, visit www.percyschmeiser.com.