Monsanto is so sneaky that its lobbyists have managed to slip the "Monsanto Protection Act,"also known as the Monsanto Rider (Sec. 735), into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill, which could be voted on today.
In an unprecedented move, this makes GMO companies exempt from our judicial court system. Even if a court orders Monsanto to stop planting seeds until an environmental review is carried out, this bill overrules that. The USDA would be required to give Monsanto a temporary permit to keep selling, cultivating and planting those seeds while the review is conducted.
So, even the federal courts wouldn’t be able to stop Monsanto (or other GMO firms) from planting unproven, potentially dangerous crops if this bill passes.
Fortunately, Senator Tester (D-MT) has introduced an amendment (#74), co-sponsored by Senators Boxer, Gillibrand and Leahy, to strike the rider from the bill.
Monsanto Currently in Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case between Monsanto and Indiana soy farmer, Hugh Bowman, Bowman v. Monsanto Co.
The crux of the case hinges on whether Monsanto’s patents on GMO seeds ever expire. Can patents on seeds – or other things that can self-replicate – extend beyond the first generation of the products?"
Bowman, who has been planting Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO soy for years, was brought to court by the company – and told to pay $84,000 – because, although he bought GMOs for his main crop, he bought unmarked, cheaper soy from a local grain operator for a late-season planting and re-planted them in following years (soybeans "are" seeds).
Monsanto accuses the farmer of infringing on its seed patents. Farmers have to buy new seeds every year, they can’t save or reuse them after a crop is grown.
Bowman is appealing the charge in the Supreme Court (Justice Clarence Thomas is former attorney for Monsanto).
"For years now, farmers have been forced to pay for ever-more expensive seeds that don’t perform as advertised and are increasingly the only market-viable seeds they can find (90% of soy planted in the US uses GMO seed). When they look to other seed sources, they are dogged by patent infringement lawsuits.
Taking a stand against Monsanto’s harassment of farmers, Bowman continues to assert his right to save seed and rejects the corporate giant’s claims that he violated patent law," explains Pesticide Action Network.
So far, the court seems to be siding with Monsanto. Chief Justice John Roberts asked, "why in the world would anybody" invest time and money on seeds if it was so easy to evade patent protection. The Obama Administration also filed a brief backing Monsanto (the USDA is filled with former Monsanto people).
Just 10 corporations control about two-thirds of all commercial seed for major crops (three corporations control 53%), dangerously concentrating the world’s seed supplies in private hands, because of intellectural property rules, argues the Center for Food Safety.
Not only does this drive up prices, but it dangerously limits the variety of seeds planted, they say.
After seeds are purchased and planted once, the farmer should be able to plant them after that without worrying about patent infringement, argues Bowman’s pro-bono lawyer, Mark Walters, from the firm of Frommer Lawrence and Haug.
In 2008, the Supreme Court decided there are limits to how far a patent-holder can go in forcing those further down a supply chain from continuing to license their patents. The limit is known as "patent exhaustion," and Monsanto is demanding it be released from this limitation.
That’s exactly what Walters is arguing. Under the principle of "patent exhaustion," second-hand seeds are lawfully owned by the purchaser, not by the original patent holder.
"If you buy something that’s covered by a patent, you own it, outright. "You’re allowed to put it on Craigslist and sell it, you’re allowed to use it for your ‘ordinary pursuits of life.’ Imagine how commerce would work if patents owners could come out of nowhere and surprise purchasers and tell them, ‘Oh, you need to pay me a royalty, because I own a patent on this thing that you just bought,’" Walters explained to National Public Radio.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor disagreed, saying, "The exhaustion doctrine permits you to use the good that you buy, it never permits you to make another item from that item you bought."
Justice Antonin Scalia concurred: "He can plant and harvest and eat or sell. He just can’t plant, harvest, and then replant."
Bowman’s attorney responded, "We disagree that the activity of basic farming could be considered making the invention."
Global Seed Monopoly
The report"Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers," shows how the "current seed patent regime has led to a radical shift to consolidation and control of global seed supply and how these patents have abetted corporations, such as Monsanto, to sue U.S. farmers for alleged seed patent infringement."
Monsanto has sued 144 lawsuits involving 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 different states for seed patent infringement.
From 1995-2011, the cost of the most commonly planted GMO seeds has risen dramatically. The cost to plant one acre of soybeans is up 325%; cotton is up 516% and corn is up 259%.
If Monsanto wins this case, the ability of corporations "to own products of life" will be further ensconced in judicial precedent, further solidifying the ability of large agro-chemical firms to dictate the lives and practices of the world’s farmers.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on this case by the end of June.
Learn more about this case: