Monsanto trying to weed out seed piracy & Brazil court halts royalties
using genetically engineered seeds they haven’t purchased.
They found Mississippi soy farmer
Homan McFarling in 1999. He said the company is now demanding he pay $1.2 million
for allegedly “pirating” its technology. In doing so, Monsanto is attempting
to protect its business in much the same way the entertainment industry does
when it sues underground digital distributors exploiting music, movies and video
McFarling, 62, is in court for saving
seed from one harvest and replanting it the following season, a revered and
ancient agricultural practice. But saving Monsanto’s seeds, genetically engineered
to resist weed sprays, violates provisions of Monsanto’s licensing contracts
McFarling is hardly alone on this
new frontier of piracy lawsuits, a legal assault critics say is radically altering
farming habits around the world.
“My daddy saved seed. I saved seed,”
said McFarling who still grows soy on the 5,000-acre family farm near Tupelo.
“Monsanto is ruining farming.”
In a similar case a year ago, Tennessee
farmer Kem Ralph was sued by Monsanto and sentenced to eight months in prison
after he was caught lying about a truckload of cotton seed he hid for a friend.
Ralph’s prison term is believed to be the first criminal prosecution linked
to Monsanto’s crackdown. Ralph has also been ordered to pay Monsanto more than
A new report issued Thursday by
biotechnology foe The Center for Food Safety shows Monsanto has filed 90 similar
lawsuits against 147 farmers and 39 agricultural companies since 1997.
Most of the cases accuse farmers
of saving seeds in violation of the company’s licensing agreements.
(End of published text
The company itself says it annually
investigates about 500 “tips” that farmers are illegally using its seeds and
settles many of those cases before a lawsuit is filed.
Monsanto’s licensing contracts and
litigation tactics are coming under increased scrutiny as more of the planet’s
farmland comes under genetically engineered cultivation. Some 200 million acres
of the world’s farms grew biotech crops last year, an increase of 20 percent
from 2003, according to a separate report released Wednesday.
Many of the farmers Monsanto has
sued say they didn’t read the company’s technology agreement close enough or
never received an agreement in the first place.
The company counters that it sues
only the most egregious violations and is protecting the 300,000 law-abiding
farmers who annually pay a premium for its technology. Some 85 percent of the
nation’s soy crop is genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup,
a trait many farmers said makes it easier to weed their fields and ultimately
cheaper to grow their crops.
“It’s a very efficient and cost-effective
way to raise soy beans and that’s why the market has embraced it,” said Ron
Heck, who grows 900 acres of genetically engineered soy beans in Perry, Iowa.
Heck, who is also chairman of the
American Soybean Association, said he doesn’t mind buying new seed each year
and appreciates Monsanto’s crackdown on competitors who don’t pay for their
“You can save seed if you want to
use the old technology,” Heck said.
The company said the licensing agreement
protects its more than 600 biotech-related patents and ensures a return on its
research and development expenses, which amount to more than $400 million annually.
“We have to balance our obligations
and our responsibilities to our customers, to our employees and to our shareholders,”
said Scott Baucum, director of Monsanto’s trait stewardship.
Still, Monsanto’s investigative
tactics are sewing seeds of fear and mistrust in some farming communities, company
critics said. The company encourages farmers to call a company hot line with
piracy tips while employing a stable of private investigators who descend on
farm communities with intrusive questions of neighbors and businesses once Monsanto
Baucum acknowledged that the company
walks a fine line when it sues farmers.
“It is very uncomfortable for us,”
Baucum said. “They are our customers and they are important to us.”
The Center for Food Safety established
its own hot line Thursday where farmers getting sued can receive aid. It also
said it hopes to convene a meeting among defense lawyers to develop legal strategies
to fight Monsanto.
The company said it has gone to
trial five times and has never lost a legal fight against an accused pirate.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 allowed for the patenting of genetically engineered
life forms and extended the same protections to altered plants in 2001. Earlier
this year, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. specifically
upheld Monsanto’s license.
“It’s sad. It’s sickening. I’m disillusioned,”
said Rodney Nelson, a North Dakota farmer who settled a Monsanto suit in 2001
that he said was unfairly filed. “We have a heck of an uphill battle that I
don’t think can be won.”
Brazil court halts royalties
ST. LOUIS (AP — A Brazilian court
has temporarily halted royalty payments to agriculture biotech giant Monsanto
Co. by a farmers’ group using its herbicide-resistant soy seed in a country
where the company long has struggled to collect the fees.
The ruling applies only to the Cooperativa
Triticola Mista Campo Novo, the group of about 8,700 growers in Rio Grande do
Sul, the South American country’s third-largest soy producing state. Most of
the state’s soy production comes from genetically modified seeds.
Worldwide, Brazil is second in soy
production but has the potential to overtake the United States because of cheap
land, low labor costs and plentiful water.
The farmers’ group argued that Monsanto
should only be allowed to charge royalties on its seeds, not on the amount of
Weed and seed violation
What is a Notice of Noxious Weeds?
This is the written notification that noxious weeds have been identified on a property. The Notice includes the type of noxious weeds present, where they are located on the property, control options, a time frame for controlling the infestation, and a contact number for your Field Inspector.
I received a Notice in the mail, how do I know which weeds need to be controlled?
Your Noxious Weed Inspector will usually tag one or two plants on the property with fluorescent survey tape. The tagged plants are “Example Plants” to help the owner recognize the plant; they are not the only plants on the property. There may be a few more or a thousand more plants located elsewhere on the property. If you have trouble identifying or locating the plants on your property, call the number for your Inspector (the number is listed on your notice), or you may contact Noxious Weed Control Center and the Inspector for your area will be glad to meet you at your property to assist you.
What is a Violation Notice?
When a Notice of Noxious weeds along with other contact attempts have failed to result in compliance with the State Noxious Weed Law, a Violation Notice will be sent to the landowner. This is a legal notice requiring control of the weeds within a specified number of days. If the owner makes no attempt to contact us, or clean up the noxious weed infestation within that time frame, we will take necessary steps to clean up the property and bill the owner. Failure to pay the cost of clean-up will result in a Lien against the property.
Why did I receive two copies of the violation notice?
Aside from the fact that this policy is mandated by State Law, it is also our way of ensuring that property owners are properly notified.
If the noxious weeds are in a sensitive area (like a wetland, wetland buffer, etc.) do I need a permit to control it?
Removal by hand of man made litter and control of noxious weeds that are included on the State noxious weed list (WAC 16-750) or invasive plant species as identified by Pierce County is permissible without a special permit. Control may be conducted by clipping, pulling, over-shading with native tree and shrub species, or non-mechanized digging.
Why is there a line on my property tax statement for noxious weed control?
State Law mandates the funding of county weed boards to educate citizens concerning noxious weeds and to ensure that the noxious weed laws are observed on all lands within the County, both private and public. In 1980 Pierce County Commissioners approved a levied assessment to fund our county noxious weed control program. The cost of the program is distributed fairly in this manner because all landowners, including city and state agencies, must contribute.
Why should people who don’t have noxious weeds have to pay the assessment?
Weeds are everybody’s problem. Even if you don’t currently have noxious weeds on your property, you can be harmed by weeds that spread from adjacent lands. Seeds are carried by wind and cars and the invasive nature of these plants means that no land is immune to their spread. Preventing new infestations is a top priority of the Pierce County Noxious Weed Control Program. Everyone benefits when we control and prevent the spread of noxious weeds.
Why should I be concerned about controlling noxious weeds?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the yearly economic impact of invasive species in the US is estimated at $133 billion a year and rising. That includes agriculture and forest production, land remediation and maintenance, as well as diminished ecosystems.