Farmers vs. Monsanto: What’s the real agenda?

Any time anyone tries to take down a brutal behemoth like Monsanto, you have to gives them kudos. It’s well known that they are ruthless in their pursuit of farmers who unknowingly have their crops cross-pollinated by the company’s GMOs. Monsanto has a nasty habit of stomping on and extorting money from innocent farmers in their patent enforcement efforts. So when it was announced that a coalition of organic farmers and seed growers were suing them for the aggressive enforcement, people applauded.

But is there an agenda behind the patent angle? To hear advocates of suit, the answer is yes. They are hoping GM foods get banned. That’s pie in the sky thinking. This is a lawsuit about patent infringement, nothing more nothing less. It’s a legal argument. The judge hearing oral arguments, Naomi Reice Buchwald noted at the beginning of oral arguments, “It should come as no surprise to you, we have read most of the papers, and, frankly, from my point of view, the issues here are very legal in nature and involve reading cases, something which we [the court] can do without assistance.”

Dan Ravicher is the Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation, (PUBPAT) a public interest organization that “represents the public interest against undeserved patents and unsound patent policy.”  Ravicher argued in court:

“Here is the concern: When you’re a farmer, and you’ve been contaminated by genetically modified seed, you can’t tell  that. It’s not like your neighbor’s tree fell on your property which is open and notorious. The seed comes over because their seeds haven’t been modified to create different plants.  Their corn and our client’s corn looks to the eyeball exactly the same. It tastes the same. It feels the same. It is exactly the same in all respects. The only difference is their version resists herbicide known as glyphosate.” (my emphasis)

Anti-GMO advocates must have winced at that one.

It is not known what other strategies they have up their sleeves if a trial is allowed to proceed. That decision comes on March 31st.  If they are smart, they will stick to the patent angle and not bring the argument that proponents would like; that GMO foods are unsafe and haven’t been thoroughly tested. If they do, they open themselves up for an onslaught of established science which can hurt their chances of victory.

I haven’t read through all the court filings but an article at says “the lawsuit claims that GMOs and organics cannot coexist.” If they claim that, they are opening themselves up to the argument that neither can conventional farming co-exist with organic farming. The lawyers have to tread a fine line and stay on point.

Can’t co-exist? Raoul Adamchak teaches organic production practices and manages the certified organic Market Garden at UC Davis. He told me in an interview last year of how Professor Matt Liebman of Iowa State University managed to combine conventional, GM and organic methods. “In an effort to see if the conventional herbicide tolerant GE corn/soybean rotation in the midwest could be made more sustainable, he added a small grain and alfalfa to rotation and used compost to supplement fertility. With this system he was able to reduce herbicide use by 82% and synthetic N use by 74%, while maintaining yields and economic return.”

In the triplepundit article cited above, Elizabeth Archerd, director of a Minneapolis food co-op was quoted as saying, “Pollen and DNA do not play by the USDA’s rules.” She’s right. They don’t. The same problem exists with conventional crops. Why aren’t they advocating elimination of those? Cross pollination is a known issue with any kind of crops and farmers take to steps to minimize that problem.

Jim Gerritson,  a Maine organic farmer and Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association President said, “We don’t want their technology.” Gerritson should know the technology wasn’t invented by Monsanto. Monsanto has become the boogeyman in the anti-GMO fight. Advocates seem to have this misguided notion that if you bring down Monsanto, GMOs will go away. On the contrary, if you bust Monsanto’s hold on GM seeds, you will see more small biotech companies and universities getting in the game. And, considering around 70% of all foods on supermarket shelves contain some GMOs, its disappearance is highly unlikely.

I think PUBPAT is smart and won’t argue anything that will harm their case. They’re not scientists, but patent lawyers.

Side note: When the idea of a so-called terminator seed was floated which would prevent unintentional cross-pollination, the very same people who were up in arms against its adoption are the same ones who are now up in arms about cross-pollination of their plants. Life’s a biotech bitch, eh?


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