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Monsanto Destroying Farming Communities

01/15/10 | by slowfoodsf | Policy

This post could go in a number of directions and as such, what results will not cover nearly what it should. If you’ve seen the film Food Inc., you know about the team of private investigators, the hotline, and the middle of the night visits to farmer’s houses all in the name of patent infringement. And it isn’t just the film saying this. Here is what Monsanto released on their own website:

“When one farmer sees another farmer saving patented seed, they will often report them. Many of the tips Monsanto gets about farmers saving patented seeds come from other farmers in the same community.”

One hundred and forty cases have been brought against such reported farmers whose crimes have to do with saving patented seed material. Only, it’s not just those who save seeds, it’s those who want to save their own public seed but in the process inadvertently save patented Monsanto seeds that have blown onto their crops from neighboring farms. In normal tort law, farmers would be able to bring a suit against Monsanto for being a nuisance with their pollutant patented seeds. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Instead, farmers turn each other in. Monsanto is proud that only one hundred and forty farmers have been tried, only one hundred and forty farmers have had to spend incredible amounts on legal representation and eventual settlements (likely because they were simply unable to continue to fight Monsanto). They like to say that out of the three hundred thousand farmers they sell seed to, only one hundred and forty of them have been dishonest. The moral burden of a label like dishonest is Monsanto’s own way of describing these farmers. On that same website entry entitled “Follow-up to Monsanto Farmer Lawsuits” they say,

“Enforcing patent law is not much different from the enforcement of other laws. Most people respect the law. Often, honest citizens will report those who break the law. The same is true for patent infringement involving saved seed. The vast majority of farmers respect patent laws and honor their agreements to abide by that law. ”

It is hard for me to understand how one is supposed to find Monsanto’s motives as honorable or honest. A few stray seeds makes you a criminal. One of the farmers who faced a lawsuit from Monsanto and was featured in Food Inc., is Moe Parr. Moe Parr was sued because, in his business cleaning seed to be saved, he had helped clean Monsanto patented Roundup Ready seed. Monsanto replied to the publicity his case received by stating that Mr. Parr was not being transparent. On their website, posted under the title “Maurice (Moe) Parr,” Monsanto attempts to shed light on Mr. Parr’s supposed sleight of hands with the facts. Monsanto, attempting to negate Mr. Parr’s assertion that he settled with Monsanto in light of rising legal costs, points out that Mr. Parr knew it was illegal to save patented seed and yet he encouraged his clients to save the seed. All of this of course does nothing to negate rising costs. Finally, Monsanto helpfully points out,

“Mr. Parr is able to continue to clean conventional soybeans, wheat and other non-patented seed crops.”

Monsanto corners the market. Not only will it be difficult for him to find clients still using public seed, becoming increasingly rare, but he will also have to separate out any patented seeds that may have contaminated that public seed. And in the process, Monsanto has turned farmers against each other. When Monsanto has a greater ability to regulate farmers than the FDA, something needs to change at the policy level.