Just as we heard Vermont’s House voted in favor of labeling genetically modified foods (GMO), we also heard that Monsanto won its case in front of the Supreme Court.
Vermont’s GMO labeling bill (H112) passed, 99-42 and now goes to the Assembly.
Supermarkets across Europe signed the "Brussels Soy Declaration,"which states consumers and farmers should have a choice whether they eat GMO soy. Since most of the soy imported to Europe comes from Brazil, which has since 2005, been increasingly growing GMO soy, it says:
Supermarkets "give their full support to the continued, and even expanded, production of GMO-free soy in Brazil in order to provide European consumers with GMO-free food products, thereby giving them the option to exercise their right to individual food sovereignty.
US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Monsanto in the Bowman v. Monsanto case, which pitted an Indiana farmer against the behemoth corporation.
The ruling says Bowman violated Monsanto’s patent when he planted unlabeled soy bean seeds without paying for them.
At the heart of the ruling is how practices like Bowman’s impact the incentive to innovate – the basis for patent law.
If farmers were allowed to plant seeds without permission, "a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first items containing the invention," wrote Justice Kagan.
While this case was about soybeans, people in industries from vaccines to software watched intently. The ruling reaffirms the principle that patents extend to copies made of a patented item.
Bowman will have to pay $84,456 for infringing on Monsanto’s patent. This ruling "makes infringers out of 95% of America’s soybean farmers." Small farmers may need to "organize and lobby Congress for a clarification of the law," Bowman’s attorney, Mark Walters, told Reuters.
Although Bowman purchased GMO seeds for his main crop, in 1999 he bought unmarked, cheaper soy from a local grain operator for a riskier late-season planting and kept re-planting them until 2007 (soybeans "are" seeds).
Those cheap seeds are used for animal feed, not for successive plantings. Since it was "second-generation," soy – not that sold by seed dealers – he didn’t think a patent applied.
Monsanto accused 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.
The other side of the argument, which the Supreme Court judges rejected is, "Should anyone, or any corporation, control a product of life?"
Monsanto’s "logic is troubling to many who point out that it is the nature of seeds and all living things, whether patented or not, to replicate. Monsanto’s claim that it has rights over a self-replicating natural product should raise concern. Seeds, unlike computer chips, for example, are essential to life. If people are denied a computer chip, they don’t go hungry. If people are denied seeds, the potential consequences are much more threatening," say Debbie Barker, Program Director for Save Our Seeds and George Kimbrell, attorney for Center for Food Safety.
Monsanto’s aggressive protection of its patents is infamous, and is a grave concern for organic and non-GMO agricultural producers. Since the mid-1990s, 144 famers have been sued for alleged violations of its patented seed technology. Some operations have switched crops rather than risk standing up to the well-funded, litigious company.
Incredibly, just three corporations control over half of the global commercial seed market now, according to a report by the Center for Food Safety. As a result, the average cost to plant an acre of soybeans rose 325% from 1995-2011. More than 90% of soy growers in the US use Monsanto’s GMO seeds, which entered the market in 1996.
Read our background on this case.