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Grower Nailed with Massive 'Pirate' Fine

(19 September - Cropchoice News) -- A Monroe, Louisiana court has massively fined a grower for replanting Bollgard cotton, according to a Farm Progress report. The grower, Dallas Thomason of Rayville, Louisiana, was accused of replanting 4,000 acres with saved Bt cotton seed the companies called "pirated".

A jury decided against Thomason and awarded the companies $401 per acre for patent infringement plus another $100 per acre for violations of the US Plant Variety Protection Act (plant breeder's rights). Monsanto owns patents on the Bt genes in many DeltaPine seeds, while the DeltaPine owns and produces the varieties themselves. If the full penalty is applied to all acreage, Thomason will owe Monsanto and DeltaPine over $2 million.

The case is somewhat unusual. In recent years Monsanto has accused hundreds of farmers of "piracy"; but few have gone to trial. Monsanto has preferred to use aggressive legal tactics that encourage accused farmers to settle out of court. As part of the settlement agreements, farmers have to pay the company and agree to a gag order preventing them from talking to the press about the case.

In Canada, at least one similarly accused canola farmer has resisted and filed countersuit against Monsanto. The case was recently heard in Canadian court and a decision is expected in a few weeks.

News of the Monroe decision, and the particularly large fine, is spreading around internet farm and biotech activist circles, where it is drawing a strong reaction. The decision was met with with shock from the many activists who are opposed to seed patents and the prosecution of farmers. One activist observed "Monsanto makes me want to vomit... like they haven't violated all of us."

Monsanto does not agree. Brett Begemann of Monsanto told Farm Progress that the case was to "uphold the integrity of our licensing system... not about monetary damages".

SOURCE: Farm Progress