Seeds of lawsuits

A group of organic farmers intends to appeal a verdict against them in their lawsuit to preempt a lawsuit against them (presumably individually) by Monsanto.

See Reuters.

The backstory here is that Monsanto is in the business of making seeds with genetic modifications that do things like improve yield.  Many people still prefer organic foods without the genetic modifications.  Many farmers sell to this market.

Traditionally, farmers reserved some of their crop yields to retain seeds for the next season.  Cross pollination between crops of adjacent and nearby farmers would happen, but it didn’t matter in the past because everyone was just growing natural seed.  But with genetically modified seed, this cross pollination would carry the new genetics into farms that did not buy the modified seed.  This resulted in retained seeds for the next year having the modified genetics.  Monsanto has a record if many lawsuits against farmers for growing crops with these seeds on the basis of their patents on the genetic modifications.  But these are farmers just regrowing from their own seed as farmers have been doing since farming began.

This lawsuit seeks to preempt future lawsuits and get the matter decided in court now.

Something is fundamentally wrong here.  While the patents Monsanto has appear to be reasonable, innovative, and non-trivial patents (a lot of development has gone into these modifications), the farmers involved are not using this by choice.  Nature has taken the course to mix things up.

Monsanto expects farmers with contaminated fields to simply not use that seed next year.  How will the farmers have seed, then?

Overall, this is an issue that needs to be decided.  It is natural for seed to cross pollinate like this.  If Monsanto wants to be in the business of providing seed to farmers, it is then wanting to be in a business where their intellectual property becomes strewn about by nature.  They cannot expect to keep it fully isolated.

Farmers also are known to sell their seeds to other farmers when one has more and the other has less than they need.  Now these seeds are contaminated.

U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Buchwald, for the Southern District of New York, threw out the case last month, criticizing the groups for a “transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists”.

That is definitely wrong.  There is a real controversy here.

Monsanto clearly has sued farmers and won, putting many out of business who has to sell their land to pay the judgments.  But Monsanto has not made any irrevocable pledge to not sue these farmers.  The farmers need to know this to obtain financing.  What bank would finance a farmer who might be sued by such a heavyweight corporate giant?

Congress needs to step in and decide this once and for all, if the courts are unable to do this.  The law needs to change the scope of the rights of intellectual property owners so that once nature spreads the seeds about, those seeds and their results are not covered by the patents.

It’s the nature of farming.  If you don’t like how nature deals with this, maybe Monsanto should be in some other line of business instead.  The organic farmer’s group already understands this.  They know that suing Monsanto for polluting their fields is pointless, since the clear defense is that this is how nature works in farming.  It is simply not possible to completely isolate genetics in mass grown products.

I sometimes wonder if it Monsanto’s intent to see all farms that do not buy their seeds be eliminated.

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One Response to Seeds of lawsuits

  1. The proper response to your last sentence is “Bingo!” It’s the goal of every large business to eliminate all competition. Not very moral, but absolutely common behavior.

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