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[SANET-MG] M versus farmers
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/MonsantovsFarmers.phpISIS Press Release 28/04/05
Monsanto versus Farmers
The world’s biggest genetically engineered seed owner destroys
time-honoured traditions of seed saving and drives American farmers to
destitution and bankruptcy. Sam Burcher
Odds stacked against farmers
Feudalism has returned to farming in the US and Canada, according to the
US Center for Food Safety’s report detailing the domination over
American staple crops by the corporations and their ruthless prosecution
Once the ink is dried on the "technology agreements" signed by the
farmers buying genetically modified (GM) seed, they enter into contracts
that effectively relinquish to Monsanto their right to plant, harvest
and sell the GM seed. From that moment on, they are also vulnerable to
harassment such as having their property investigated, litigations and
out of court settlements that are part and parcel of licensing a
Monsanto patented product.
No grower is safe from this onslaught as third generation Canadian
farmer Percy Schmeiser discovered when he lost to Monsanto in court for
failing to pay royalties on GM canola seed that had contaminated his
non-GM canola crop. "The corporations are becoming the barons and lords,
which are what my grandparents thought they had escaped." Schmeiser said.
To-date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers; and
147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies have had to fight
for their lives to avoid paying additional court costs, attorneys’ fees,
and in some cases, costs incurred by Monsanto while investigating them
The Center for Food Safety estimates that Monsanto has been awarded over
$15 million for judgments granted in their favour. The largest recorded
single payment received from one farmer was US$3 052 800 (Farmer
Anderson, Case no. 4:01: CV-01 749).
Monsanto controls US staple crops by licence
For the first time in history, one company has unprecedented control of
the sale and use of crop seed. They have accomplished this in three main
ways: control of germplasm through ownership of seed companies;
domination of genetic technology and seeds through patent acquisitions;
and breaking age-old farming tradition by forcing farmers to buy new
seed each year rather than saving and re-planting seed.
Buying or merging with most of the major seed companies, including their
recent acquisition of the giant fruit and vegetable seed company
Seminis, has made Monsanto’s the largest GM seed vendor in the world,
providing 90% of the GM seed sown globally. It has also cornered most of
the soybean market and 50% of the corn germplasm market in the US. And
if Monsanto doesn’t actually own the seed purchasing companies, it has
been known to impose the condition that a minimum of 70% (reduced from
90% by government regulators) of its patented seeds are sold by
subsidiary companies. This ensures that its seeds are the most readily
available to farmers.
American farmers are hard pushed to find high quality, conventional
varieties of corn, soy and cottonseed. Anecdotal evidence supports this.
Troy Roush, an Indiana soybean farmer says, "You can’t even purchase
them in this market. They are not available." Similar reports come from
the corn and cotton farmers who say, "There are not too many seeds
available that are not genetically altered in some way."
Over the last 10 000 years, diverse genetic pools have been created and
preserved by plant breeders. Monsanto has put these diverse gene pools
at risk by contaminating certified and traditional seed stocks, and by
not permitting farmers to save seeds. A feudal system of seed ownership
destroys perhaps the key privilege of a farmer as the guardian of
societies’ crop heritage. And it has turned agriculture into an industry
where the corporations consolidate their hold over costly seeds and
chemicals that increase farmers spending on inputs. Meanwhile monopolies
are created in corporate manipulated markets that include fewer buyers
who demand the lowest possible prices for the outputs produced by
farmers, forcing them into a debt spiral. In 2003 Monsanto made $3.1
billion in pesticide sales and $1.6 billion in seed sales.
Farmers are under pressure to confirm their identity as modern
agriculturalists, particularly in developing countries. But replacing
the traditional strategy of saving and replanting seeds from diverse
varieties by a patented seed with all its restrictions threatens food
security at household and global levels.
Patents place the burden on farmers
Over the past twenty years, Monsanto has voraciously accumulated
collected patents on engineered plants, seeds and genetic engineering
techniques, perhaps most importantly, the cauliflower mosaic virus
(CaMV) 35S promoter, the commonest component in the genetic engineer’s
toolbox. Along with CaMV35S, which other biotech companies pay
exorbitant fees to license, Monsanto owns 647 plant biotech patents and
a 29% share of all biotech research and development.
Patents have changed the face of farming because the farmer has lost
control of seeds. Once farmers paid royalties on seed to the US Plant
Variety Protection Act or Canada Plant Breeders Rights Act licensees who
allowed seed saving. Since the 1980s, the US Patent and Trademark Office
began issuing patents for GM organisms and seeds and have granted more
than 2 000 since 1985. Professor Lawrence Busch of Michigan State
University estimates the saving of soybean seed dropped from 31% in 1991
to just 10% in 2001 after the introduction of the GM soybean; this
translates into an additional $374 million in seed industry profits in 2001.
Robert Schubert, the author of Farming’s New Feudalism believes than an
important strategy in saving independent farmers is to remove
agriculture, food and water from the control of the WTO. His message is
no "free" trade where farming is concerned and no patents.
When Monsanto suspects that saved seed containing a "Monsanto genetic
trait," have been grown, documentation is requested from the farmers to
confirm that the crop was planted from newly purchased seed. If proof is
not forthcoming, then all of the growers’ fields may be tested and
inspected to determine if saved seed was used. Even after the farmer has
extricated himself from Monsanto technology agreements, if volunteer
plants sprout up in his fields from transgenic seeds purchased and sown
from previous years, he is still vulnerable to allegations of patent
Farmers intimidated by Monsanto
Here’s what typically happens to US farmers who fall under suspicion of
planting saved seed. Private investigators from the Pinkerton agency
hired by Monsanto arrive on the farm without warning, sometimes
accompanied by local police. They then proceed to take samples and
photographs over the course of a few hours to a few weeks, without the
farmer being present.
One Mississippi farmer who runs a farm shop from his farmhouse was
subjected to constant surveillance by Monsanto investigators who watched
the family coming and going, warned off customers, and even rented an
empty lot across the street from where to position their cameras.
Monsanto used entrapment to file a lawsuit against another farmer, when
one of their investigators begged seeds from him to help solve an
erosion problem too late in the season to plant crops. If personal
intimidation fails, Monsanto resorts to another violation of privacy by
sending a registered letter threatening to "tie the farmer up in court
for years" if he refuses to settle out of court for patent infringement.
One farmer who challenged this intimidation had his name blacklisted on
thousands of seed dealers’ lists. He concedes, "It is easier to give
into them than it is to fight them."
A further example is seed dealers who sell seeds in plain brown bags so
farmers sow them unknowingly. This happened to Farmer Thomason who was
harassed into court by Monsanto and sued for over a million dollars. He
had no choice but to file for bankruptcy despite never intending to
plant Bt cotton.
In 1999, The Washington Post reported that the number of farmers under
investigation in US and Canada was 525. A later report confirmed that
Monsanto was investigating 500 farmers in 2004 "as they do every year."
Once a farmer agrees to settle out of court he may be forced to present
all documents relating to farm activity within 24 hours of request,
purchase a specific quantity of company product and disclose the names
of other people that have saved company seed.
Contamination of conventional seed stock
Researchers at the University of Manitoba, Canada tested 33 samples of
certified canola (oilseed rape) seed stock and 32 were contaminated with
GM. The Union of Concerned Scientists tested traditional US seed stocks
of corn, soy and canola and found 50% corn, 50% soy and 83% canola
contaminated by GM.
One hundred percent purity is no longer achievable, and even if
non-contaminated seed could be purchased, some contamination can take
place in the field either by transfer of seed by wind, animals or via
Monsanto dominates the sale of seed stocks yet puts the onus of finding
markets for crops on the farmer. Within their contract is the
"Technology Use Guide" which gives directions on how to find grain
handlers willing to accept crops not approved for use in the EU. While
Monsanto acknowledges that pollen flow and seed movement are sufficient
to contaminate neighbouring non-GM fields their implicit rule is that
"the growers of the non-GM crops must assume responsibility and receive
the benefit for ensuring that their crops meet specifications for purity."
Monsanto profits from lawsuits against farmers
Outcomes of lawsuits brought by Monsanto against farmers are mostly kept
under wraps. If farmers are tempted to breach confidentiality they can
face fines greater than the settlements. But where judgments have been
publicly recorded, sizeable payments benefit not only Monsanto, but also
Combined financial penalties have forced many farmers into bankruptcy
and off their land. Agriculture is suffering losses all around because
of the disappearance of foreign markets. The US Farm Bureau estimates
that farmers lose over $300 million a year because European markets
refuse GM corn. The US State Department says that as much as $4 billion
could be lost in agricultural exports due to EU labelling and
traceability requirements. Organic and conventional farmers alike have
lost their premium markets through having no choice but to sell their
contaminated crops into GM crop streams.
Monsanto denies making profits from the misery of farmers and claims
that proceeds go to agricultural school programmes, which some does, but
by no means all. An annual budget of $10 million is set aside each year
to run a department of 75 staff dedicated to prosecuting farmers.
What Monsanto did next
Monsanto has another way of controlling patented genes. So called
"terminator technology" are seeds that become infertile after one life
cycle. The international moratorium on terminator ended when New Zealand
and Australia announced it would support the technology’s introduction
on a case-by-case basis at a 2005 meeting in Canada. The US
Administration in Iraq has already enforced the non-replanting of seeds
by farmers, under Order 81. Both GURTS (Genetic Use Restriction
Technologies) and "technology agreements," used as weapons against
farmers when they purchase GM seed, have not been legally challenged.
It’s high time that patent laws on living organisms that are encouraged
by legislators, regulators and the courts alike, come under public
Amending the Patent Act so that sexually reproducing plants are not
patentable and amending the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) to
exclude such plants from protection under the PVPA are two policy
options suggested by the Center for Food Safety to defend farmers from
Monsanto. This would minimise the damage done to farmers and agriculture
in the long term. Drastic policy changes are needed at state and federal
levels to address the hounding of farmers, their families and small
agricultural companies by the aggressive tactics of a big corporation
determined to destroy traditional farming practices and rights that go
back thousands of years.
Farmers facing lawsuits or threats from Monsanto can call this toll-free
hotline for guidance and referrals: 1-888-FARMHLP
Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers, 2005. A report by the Center for Food Safety
© 2004, Center for Food Safety www.centerforfoodsafety.org.
Robert Schubert. Farming’s New Feudalism, World Watch 2005. © Worldwatch
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