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Monsanto Sues and Sues and Sues and...

by Paul Beingessner
Canadian farmer and writer

(Monday, July 14, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Monsanto and President George Bush have one thing in common. Both have a liking for the "walk softly and carry a big stick" form of public relations. Bush uses his big economic stick to gain the support of various nations in his quest to make the world safe for American corporations. Monsanto also uses a big economic stick - the big stick of the courtroom, to beat up those who fall afoul of its litigious nature. And, like George Bush, Monsanto has been pretty successful with these tactics. After all, the effect of a cluster bomb dropping on the home quarter would not be much more devastating than the effect of being sued by a huge corporation that is willing and able to spend millions to gain its ends.

Monsanto is very determined to defend its position that farmers must buy new seed of its patented genetically modified crops each year. Monsanto has built a whole department to enforce its seed patents and licensing agreements. It has 75 employees and an annual budget of $10 million.

An estimated 400 farmers have received threats of legal action from Monsanto over alleged patent infringement. While Canadian farmers will be familiar with the trials and tribulations of Percy Schmeiser, names like Homan McFarling and Nelson Farms should resonate with American producers. Few of these cases ever get to court because most farmers look at the odds of outlasting Monsanto and simply give in. A clause in Monsanto's licensing agreement allows Monsanto to take such cases in the U.S. before courts in Missouri. This can add a huge amount to the legal bills of farmers who might be thousands of miles away.

Several of the cases that have gone to court are enough to scare farmers into meek submission to Monsanto's demands. Homan McFarling was fined $780,000 for growing Roundup Ready soybeans without paying Monsanto's licensing fee. Tennessee farmer Kem Ralph was fined $1.7 million and sentenced to eight months in jail for a variety of offenses that began with a Monsanto lawsuit.

Monsanto must be pleased with the results of its aggressive legal campaign. So pleased, in fact, it has decided to branch out. Monsanto's latest foray into the courtroom has it suing a dairy in Maine, alleging that Oakhurst Dairy's marketing campaign that touts its milk as being free of artificial growth hormones is misleading. Monsanto further claims Oakhurst's ads and labels are deceptive and disparage Monsanto's products by implying that milk from untreated cows is better than milk from hormone-treated cows.

Monsanto is the world's only producer of artificial bovine growth hormone (BGH). This product is banned in Canada and elsewhere because of concerns about its impact on humans and the cows that are injected with it. In the U.S., where BGH is legal, some dairy farmers have captured a niche market by declaring that they do not use it on their cows. The Oakhurst Dairy label is simple enough: "Our Farmers' Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones." Who would have thought that a simple statement of the truth could have such dire consequences?

Oddly enough, it would not be unexpected if Monsanto were to name the state of Maine as a co-defendant. Maine has a program, the Quality Trademark Seal, which can only be carried on dairy products that are guaranteed free of artificial growth hormones.

Monsanto's latest legal moves have angered farmers and consumers alike. Oakhurst Dairy defends the right of consumers to know what is in the milk they drink. Farmers who currently produce this milk would lose the ability to differentiate their product if Monsanto's suit is successful. Other dairies, which make similar claims, will be watching.

Monsanto treads on thin ice with its aggressive litigation. However, it need not fear the same consumer backlash that other companies might face. Monsanto does not sell directly to the average consumer. Rather, its customers are farmers who often have no other place to go if they want to grow certain products. Because of this dependency relationship, farmers cannot afford to stay angry at Monsanto forever. Monsanto, on the other hand, can enjoy the exercise of its brute power with little fear of repercussions. It is a situation that could easily get worse.

(c) Paul Beingessner
(306) 868-4734 phone
868-2009 fax


Organic Farmers Sing Biotech Blues

By Philip Brasher
Des Moines Register - Washington Bureau
July 14, 2003

Washington, D.C. - Farmers who are trying to fill America's growing appetite for organic food are battling more than just bugs and weeds.

Genetically engineered corn and soybeans are becoming so widespread that organic growers - who count on selling their crops for two to three times as much as conventional varieties - say they are having trouble keeping biotech contamination out of their crops.

Federal rules bar the use of biotechnology in organic agriculture, and even the slightest bit of biotech contamination can cut the value of the crop by a third or more.

"The first load of corn you send out with every new crop you hold your breath," said Roger Lansink, an organic farmer near Odebolt, Ia. He said a "huge percentage" of organic corn probably contains traces of biotech residue.

Organic crops can be contaminated in a variety of ways. Bags of seed often include traces of biotech varieties. Depending on weather conditions and farming practices, organic corn can easily cross-pollinate with biotech corn in nearby fields.

Lansink had a load of soybeans test positive for biotech contamination two years ago and almost had to sell the crop for half what it was worth as an organic crop.

Dave Vetter, a Nebraska farmer, said his organic corn crop tested positive for biotech residue three years in a row, and he lost a customer as a result.

Food companies and livestock producers are increasingly forcing farmers and grain elevators to test organic commodities to detect any traces of biotech material, known as GMO for genetically modified organism.

"The trend for difficulty is going up and will continue to get worse if the planting trends for GMOs continues as they've been in the last several years," said Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Co. Inc. of Cerro Gordo, Ill., a major supplier of biotech-free grain to U.S. and foreign companies.

Biotech crops have exploded in popularity with conventional farmers since the late 1990s. This year, 81 percent of the soybeans and 40 percent of the field corn grown nationwide is genetically engineered to protect the plants from herbicide or insect damage.

Sales of organic foods, meanwhile, have been growing by 20 percent a year. To meet the demand for organic crops and biotech-free seed, some companies already are starting to look for foreign sources. An Indiana seed company that supplies Clarkson's contract farmers is growing its crops in South America.

In the European Union, a new law regulating agricultural biotechnology will allow countries to isolate genetically engineered crops to prevent unwanted pollen spread.

A recent survey of U.S. organic farmers by the Organic Farming Research Foundation found more than half of the 990 respondents said the government wasn't doing enough to protect them from biotech contamination. Eighteen farmers in the survey said their crops had tested positive for biotech material.

To some extent, the organic industry brought its problem on itself.

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture originally proposed rules for organic agriculture in the mid-1990s, they would have allowed the use of biotech seeds. But USDA reversed itself after receiving thousands of comments opposed to the provision. Not only are organic crop farmers barred from using biotech seeds, but livestock producers also are required to use organically grown feed.

The USDA rules, which took effect last year, don't require organic crops to be tested for biotech residue, and the department says that unintentional biotech residue doesn't prevent a crop from being called "organic."

But that doesn't stop organic food companies and organic livestock producers from requiring seeds and crops to be tested for GMO content.

Both the testing requirements and GMO tolerances - the amount of biotech residue permitted in a crop - vary from company to company. Some grain companies test organic grain if it is to be sold for food but not for animal feed. Other companies test everything.

The financial stakes for farmers are large: Organic soybeans that can be sold for food go for $12.50 to $14.50 a bushel. Feed-grade soybeans sell for about $9 a bushel, still about $3 more than conventional soybeans.

Eden Foods Inc., a Michigan-based manufacturer of organic soy milk and other products, requires testing of both seed and harvested crops. Eden uses seed varieties that were developed by Iowa State University without biotechnology.

Heartland Organic Marketing Cooperative, a grain handler in Stewart, Ia., doesn't test the organic crops it buys so long as they are to be used for animal feed and not food.

"If you end up at the end of your growing season and end up with corn that's been cross-pollinated, which is not to be unexpected, there's nothing in the (USDA) rules to say you can't move that through an organic process," said Bob Turnbull, Heartland's marketing manager.

But some livestock producers, including meat industry giant Tyson Foods Inc., which raises organic chickens, want their grain tested anyway. Tyson, a customer of Clarkson Grain, allows up to 1 percent biotech residue.

Organic corn growers probably face the biggest challenge, since pollen can spread for long distances on the wind. Farmers say they try to plant at different times than their neighbors and plant away from biotech fields.

But even those steps aren't foolproof. Vetter, the Nebraska farmer, planted a double row of trees around his farm, and he says the neighbor upwind of him doesn't plant biotech varieties, yet Vetter's organic crops have still been contaminated. "We don't really know where it's coming from," he said.

Lansink typically plants his corn several weeks after his neighbor to prevent the crops from pollinating at the same time. But this year, because of the wet spring, his neighbors were forced to plant later than usual, so the crops could pollinate simultaneously.

Organic farmers have little recourse if their crops are contaminated.

Lansink and some other growers asked the Iowa Legislature to set up an indemnity fund to compensate farmers when specialty crops were contaminated, but the idea didn't get anywhere. The money would have come from a fee on all corn and soybean growers.

The Heartland co-op is in arbitration with a farmer whose soybeans tested positive for biotech residue and had to be sold at conventional prices.

Contamination problems

Crop purity isn't just a problem for organic farmers. Foreign buyers in Europe and Asia, where many consumers don't want to eat genetically engineered foods, insist that U.S. grain companies test for biotech residues in corn and soybeans.

OVERSEAS: British supermarket chains like Marks and Spencer and Tesco allow no more than 0.01 percent. Japan officially allows up to 5 percent, but Japanese companies typically have lower limits, industry officials say.

TESTING: The most commonly used tests are supposed to detect contamination levels of 1 percent or higher. A more sophisticated and expensive method detects levels down to 0.01 percent.


Schmeiser's Battle For The Seed

Mae-Wan Ho
Institute for Science in Society (
July 7, 2003

What makes a farmer from a small rural community in Saskatchewan stand up to Monsanto? And possibly, win?

(Friday, July 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Percy Schmeiser, now in his early seventies, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered Canadian farmer from the small rural community of Bruno some 80km east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, never dreamt he would be catapulted to the status of a contemporary folk- hero. He had been farming for 40 years when he was taken to court by biotech giant Monsanto in August 1998. The company claimed he had illegally planted its genetically engineered Roundup Ready canola without paying a $37-per-hectare fee for the privilege.

Schmeiser was not alone. Monsanto had accused scores of farmers of patent infringing on its genetically engineered seed. But, instead of settling out of court with Monsanto like the others, Schmeiser fought back. He had been sowing each crop with seeds saved and selected from the previous harvest for years, and had never purchased seed from Monsanto. Even so, he found more than 320 hectares of his land contaminated by Monsantos Roundup Ready canola.

Schmeiser insisted that any Roundup Ready growing on his land was spread by wind or by grain trucks travelling on roads adjacent to his fields.

On 10 August 1999, mediation talks to settle the dispute ended in failure. The next day, Schmeiser launched a $10 million lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing the company of a variety of wrongs, including libel, trespass and contaminating his fields with Roundup Ready canola. But Schmeisers lawsuit against Monsanto wont be dealt with until the original lawsuit has been resolved. Little did he know what a long, hard battle he has taken on.

It is a battle for the seed, for every farmers right to save and resow harvested seed, to freely share and exchange without restriction, as farmers have been doing for at least 15 000 years since agriculture began.

The trial was heard in June 2000, in the Federal Court in Saskatoon. At the trial, Monsanto presented evidence from two dozen witnesses and samplers that Schmeisers eight fields were all more than 90% Roundup Ready. Monsanto had performed no independent tests, however; the tests were all performed in house or by experts hired by the company.

In defence, Schmeiser presented his own farm-based evidence, that the fields ranged from nearly zero to 68% Roundup Ready, which was confirmed independently by research scientists at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Schmeisers defence also contained evidence that he did not knowingly acquire Monsantos product, nor did he segregate the contaminated seeds for future use or spray his canola crops with Roundup.

But the Federal Court ruled against Schmeiser. Justice Andrew McKay upheld the validity of Monsantos patented gene. In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen; but this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

It didnt matter how the Roundup Ready canola got to his fields. He was deemed to have infringed Monsanto patent, and was fined $15/acre x 1030 acres licence fee, plus the value of his entire crop, $105,000 (including fields that did not have any Roundup Ready canola), plus $25,000 for punitive and exemplary damages.

"Where does Monsantos rights end and mine begin?" Percy Schmeiser asked. He refused to abide by the judgement, and launched an appeal, which was heard in May 2002 in Saskatoon.

Unfortunately, all three judges ruled against him yet again. By this time, he and Louise, his wife of 50 years, had already spent $ 200 000 in legal fees. He had ceased to plant canola, for any canola crop he planted would belong to Monsanto.

Monsanto had kept up a constant campaign of harassment and intimidation all through the trial in 1999 and 2000. And in 2001, Monsanto brought a new case against Schmeiser for $1 million in court costs: $750 000 for their lawyers, $250 000 for disbursementswhich included travel expenses, payments for expert witnesses and $15 000 lawyers night entertainments.

Undaunted, Percy Schmeiser took his case to the Supreme court, and in May 2003, when I caught up with him at the Biodevastation 7 meeting held in Monsantos hometown St. Louis, Missouri, he just got the good news that he has won his right to be heard in the Supreme Court. There were loud cheers in the hall.

Percy Schmeiser has been tireless in travelling the world to tell his story. Everywhere, farmers are fighting for their lives and livelihoods. Monsanto winning would be the very last straw, not just for farmers, for everyone. Schmeiser has come to symbolise our collective struggle against corporate serfdom. Just as independent scientists are oppressed and victimised, farmers are subject to the same or worse treatment.

Monsantos tactics are well known. The company gets farmers to sign away all their rights in an unbelievable technology contract. The farmer must not use his or her own seed, must buy seed and chemicals from Monsanto. Monsanto can send inspectors onto your fields for three years even if you grow the companys crops for only one year.

Monsanto also openly advertises for people to tell on their neighbours if they are suspected of having GM crops without licence. The companys representatives can trespass onto your fields even when you are not at home, or fly over your field and spray Roundup to see if the crop dies. Immediately after Monsanto had obtained its judgement against Percy Schmeiser, the company had declared war on all Saskatchewan farmers.

Schmeiser received hundreds of phone calls from farmers who have been contacted by Monsanto representatives and received demand letters saying that they have unauthorised GM crops growing in their fields and must pay so many thousands of dollars to avoid lawsuit. Many of the farmers who called Schmeiser were in the same circumstances: they never bought any seed from Monsanto or signed any contract.

But things may be turning Schmeisers (and our) way at long last. In June 2002, a report from the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee said that the Patent Act should be amended to permit farmers to save and sow seeds from patented plants such as genetically engineered (GE) crops. It also said that farmers who find GE plants growing in their fields through "the adventitious spreading of patented seed or patented genetic material or the insemination of an animal by a patented animal" should be considered as innocent bystanders and not be liable to prosecution.

While biotechnology developments are patentable, the report said the holder does not have "the right to market or even use the invention. This is because some applications of the technology may pose risks to human or animal health or to the environment, challenge the capacity of current approaches to protecting health and the environment and or raise other serious social and ethical questions that must be addressed."

The report suggests that the farmer be allowed to use the seed of a GE crop or the offspring of a GE animal for his or her own use but not for commercial purposes.

Better yet, in December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the genetically engineered Harvard oncomouse is not patentable (see "Canada rejects patents on higher forms of life ", ISIS Report, March 2003 ). This opens the door to revoking patents on GM seeds, such as Monsantos Roundup Ready canola. This could be the last nudge to get GM crops off our globe.

Help Percy fight Monsanto and get patents on life revoked for a GM-Free world.
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