News flash! Organic farmers take on Monsanto

This gets filed under the Way to Go! banner.

Sixty organic seed dealers and farmers have banded together to file suit against global seed giant Monsanto, a world leader in producing genetically engineered (“transgenic”) seeds. The farmers are taking pre-emptive action to protect themselves from the litigious company's propensity for suing farmers whom it claims illegally grow crops from “its” seeds.

The problem is that farmers sometimes find themselves growing such crops unknowingly, or at least unintentionally. This can happen if seeds or pollen blow from a field that does use a Monsanto crop onto neighboring fields that don't, or if seeds fall from trucks as they're being shipped, or as happened in at least one case, if farmers trade seeds—an old tradition—but one of them gives away seed collected from a crop grown from Monsanto transgenic seeds. The unfortunate recipient in that case, Edward Zilinski of Micado, Saskatchewan, was informed that he owed Monsanto $28,000.

In other words, it doesn't matter how you come by the stuff: if you didn't buy it, you have no right to it, at least according to Monsanto.

How can this happen? Because Monsanto claims ownership not only of the actual seeds it develops and sells, but of the genes within them. Therefore, it also owns any future generations of seeds produced by those it sells. After all, those later generations still contain the Monsanto genes–which it owns. (Call it the power of the patent.) So when farmers buy any of Monsanto's patented seeds—soybeans, canola, corn, cotton—they must promise not to save seeds from their crop for the next year. Instead, they have to buy seed from Monsanto each season.

Monsanto justifies this system by pointing out that the company has spent years designing these seeds (often engineered to survive the herbicide Roundup, manufactured by none other than Monsanto) and that it can't recoup its investment if farmers buy the seeds only once, then just save seed year after year for the next crop. They see it as unfair for growers to continue to benefit from Monsanto's invention, while paying for it only once.

Numerous farmers have therefore been sued for “growing” transgenic crops, though many claim that they never intentionally planted Monsanto seed and and that the genetically altered seed actually contaminated their own crops. Percy Schmeiser of Saskatchewan is perhaps the most famous of these farmers, but there are many others: the Nelsons of North Dakota, the Mayfield brothers of Arkansas,, the Krams of Saskatchewan, the Runyons in Indiana, and hundreds more.

Tired of living under the threat of such suits, the organic growers and seed distributors have banded together to sue Monsanto. As genetically altered crops become more and more common–and already, over 95% of soybeans grown in the United States, and a similar proportion of canola in Canada are grown from transgenic seed–it becomes increasingly likely that their seeds and pollen will spread outside the designated fields.

Organic farmers have much to lose: the integrity of their crops, their organic certification, their seed banks, are all at risk. Add to this the ironic and expensive insult that they'll probably be sued for being so unfortunate as to allow their fields to be contaminated.

So they are saying, Enough already. They're suing back. I, for one, wish them luck.

5 Responses to News flash! Organic farmers take on Monsanto

  1. Just came across your blog looking for gardening blogs …
    I’m so happy to see people taking on Monsanto. This company has apparently been behind a lot of bad chemicals and it seems like all they care is about the money, rather than what one would hope to be better plants. Shame on them.

  2. My feelings precisely, Cynthia. So glad you stopped by!
    –Kate

  3. Here here…it may not feel like much but we all count. No to poison in our food, help grow our own http://www.pirklefloralco.com

  4. Monsanto has a lot of problematic practices, and I am not sure why so many farmers have been content to work with them despite their extremely tight contracts. You must rebuy seed year after year, and Monsanto has even won suits against people who have had Monsanto genetics found in their crops without them putting them there. (ie by natural pollination, Monsanto claims genetic rights to our major food crops).

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