Skip to comments.Farmerís use of genetically modified soybeans grows into Supreme Court case
Posted on 02/11/2013 9:16:12 AM PST by Theoria
Farmer Hugh Bowman hardly looks the part of a revolutionary who stands in the way of promising new biotech discoveries and threatens Monsantos pursuit of new products it says will feed the world.
Hells fire, said the 75-year-old self-described eccentric old bachelor, who farms 300 acres of land passed down from his father. Bowman rested in a recliner, boots off, the tag that once held his Foster Grant reading glasses to a drugstore rack still attached, a Monsanto gimme cap perched ironically on his balding head.
I am less than a drop in the bucket.
Yet Bowmans unorthodox soybean farming techniques have landed him at the center of a national battle over genetically modified crops. His legal battle, now at the Supreme Court, raises questions about whether the right to patent living things extends to their progeny, and how companies that engage in cutting-edge research can recoup their investments.
What Bowman did was to take commodity grain from the local elevator, which is usually used for feed, and plant it. But that grain was mostly progeny of Monsantos Roundup Ready beans because thats what most Indiana soybean farmers grow. Those soybeans are genetically modified to survive the weedkiller Roundup, and Monsanto claims that Bowmans planting violated the companys restrictions.
Those supporting Bowman hope the court uses the case, which is scheduled for oral arguments later this month, to hit the reset button on corporate domination of agribusiness and what they call Monsantos legal assault on farmers who dont toe the line. Monsantos supporters say advances in health and environmental research are endangered.
And the case raises questions about the traditional role of farmers.
(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...
If he wants to buy their beans for planting, he should pay the price. Otherwise, buying feed beans at feed prices implies a limitation on their use.
By MICHAEL CRICHTON
Published: February 13, 2007
YOU, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, its only too real.
Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: a test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.
Why? Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldnt somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitors test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you cant even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but its now private property.
This bizarre situation has come to pass because of a mistake by an underfinanced and understaffed government agency. The United States Patent Office misinterpreted previous Supreme Court rulings and some years ago began to the surprise of everyone, including scientists decoding the genome to issue patents on genes.
Humans share mostly the same genes. The same genes are found in other animals as well. Our genetic makeup represents the common heritage of all life on earth. You cant patent snow, eagles or gravity, and you shouldnt be able to patent genes, either. Yet by now one-fifth of the genes in your body are privately owned.
The results have been disastrous. Ordinarily, we imagine patents promote innovation, but thats because most patents are granted for human inventions. Genes arent human inventions, they are features of the natural world. As a result these patents can be used to block innovation, and hurt patient care.
For example, Canavan disease is an inherited disorder that affects children starting at 3 months; they cannot crawl or walk, they suffer seizures and eventually become paralyzed and die by adolescence. Formerly there was no test to tell parents if they were at risk. Families enduring the heartbreak of caring for these children engaged a researcher to identify the gene and produce a test. Canavan families around the world donated tissue and money to help this cause.
When the gene was identified in 1993, the families got the commitment of a New York hospital to offer a free test to anyone who wanted it. But the researchers employer, Miami Childrens Hospital Research Institute, patented the gene and refused to allow any health care provider to offer the test without paying a royalty. The parents did not believe genes should be patented and so did not put their names on the patent. Consequently, they had no control over the outcome.
In addition, a genes owner can in some instances also own the mutations of that gene, and these mutations can be markers for disease. Countries that dont have gene patents actually offer better gene testing than we do, because when multiple labs are allowed to do testing, more mutations are discovered, leading to higher-quality tests.
Apologists for gene patents argue that the issue is a tempest in a teapot, that patent licenses are readily available at minimal cost. Thats simply untrue. The owner of the genome for Hepatitis C is paid millions by researchers to study this disease. Not surprisingly, many other researchers choose to study something less expensive.
But forget the costs: why should people or companies own a disease in the first place? They didnt invent it. Yet today, more than 20 human pathogens are privately owned, including haemophilus influenza and Hepatitis C. And weve already mentioned that tests for the BRCA genes for breast cancer cost $3,000. Oh, one more thing: if you undergo the test, the company that owns the patent on the gene can keep your tissue and do research on it without asking your permission. Dont like it? Too bad.
The plain truth is that gene patents arent benign and never will be. When SARS was spreading across the globe, medical researchers hesitated to study it because of patent concerns. There is no clearer indication that gene patents block innovation, inhibit research and put us all at risk.
Even your doctor cant get relevant information. An asthma medication only works in certain patients. Yet its manufacturer has squelched efforts by others to develop genetic tests that would determine on whom it will and will not work. Such commercial considerations interfere with a great dream. For years weve been promised the coming era of personalized medicine medicine suited to our particular body makeup. Gene patents destroy that dream.
Fortunately, two congressmen want to make the full benefit of the decoded genome available to us all. Last Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Mr. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. Hes right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us. It deserves our support.
They were allowed when affirmative action know-nothings started granting patents on anything.
I would not confer it to being from affirmative action type scenarios, but more so by corporate rent seeking or capture.
I don’t always plant soybeans, but when I do, I plant Roundup Ready. They aren’t cheap and when you have a bad year like we had last year, it hurts when you get your check from the grain elevator. Fortunately I don’t make my living doing this, so I don’t really have any skin in the game, at least as far as soybeans are concerned.
Seed companies need to make money and so do farmers. We’ll see if the courts can sort it out, but I certainly hope that the politicians don’t stick their noses into it.
How so? There is no guarantee that these seeds will germinate or grow or be Roundup resistant. He tried something outside the box and it worked.
If I buy Purina Rat Chow and feed it to my dog, am I committing a crime? What if I consume the Rat Chow myself? What if someone uses food stamps to buy steak and feeds that to his dog?
If they wanted their Roundup Ready Soybeans to be useless as seed, then they should have engineered them to be non viable.
Here is a stickier issue. If I plant my unpatented soybeans and they are pollenated primarily by my neighbor’s patented soybeans (due to wind), am I breaking the protection on the patent?
I don’t know a thing about soybeans. If they self-fertilize then this guy is copying monsanto’s product. If any cross-fertilization from non-monsanto stock has occured than it’s a new product, Round-up resistant though it may be.
Its sad to hear the sound of corporatist fascism so early on Monday morning.
If he’d had to sign a legal agreement to take those beans, then maybe there’d be a case.
But if he didn’t, he can do with those beans what he wishes.
Monsanto is a disaster of a company, completely out of control, anyway.
Hmmm, if *they* really wanted to go after him, *they* should check and see if he has any diesel road vehicles with tax-free ag fuel in them...
I'm not hopeful that the USSC can sort it out based on existing US laws. Too many leftists look to foreign laws now. I heard about a Canadian case some years back about a adjacent farms, one of which used a GM seed, and the neighbor benefited somewhat from wind-blown pollen.
The Canadian court[s] somehow found for the seed company, the adjacent farmer reaping the benefits of their patent without paying for it.
I think that decision flies in the face of [English] common property law about liability for unintentional/unauthorized improvements to a property.
Although, it's been a while since I took that business law course as an undergrad.
>> Otherwise, buying feed beans at feed prices implies a limitation on their use.
Is there anything in the *sale contract* between the farmer and the feed supplier that *STATES UNEQUIVOCALLY* that feed beans shall not be planted?
If there is then the farmer violated his purchase terma and is in the wrong.
If not then Monsanto should lose.
This is how we do business here in America.
In general I would agree with that logic. But there needs to be some sort of riding herd over the seed companies’ bullying of farmers. I have heard of cases where the seed company will sue a farmer who keeps some of his own seed for planting the next crop year because his crop cross-pollinated with his neighbor’s crop even though the farmer being sued did not plant the hybrid seed.
If a person buys something, it’s his to do with as he chooses. He’s not renting the soybeans, nor is he an employee of Monsanto.
I suspect some organic/heritage farmer out there could try some type of lawsuit if a gmo planted crop near his organic field contaminated his product.
Well first off Monsanto’s claim goes much deeper than this, they claim rights to outlying farmers seed that are progeny from their GM foodstuff even though it occurred naturally.
So if you’re a seed grower and a wind or bee colony decides to pollinate your crop with Pollen from Monsanto’s GM plants, Monsanto believes it has a right to lay claim to royalties.
said:”If he wants to buy their beans for planting, he should pay the price. Otherwise, buying feed beans at feed prices implies a limitation on their use.”
I say, Bull!!
Farmers and others for all of man’s existence have planted some of the harvested seed the next season.
This is like Monsanto suing farmers whose non-Monsanto crops were accidentally cross-pollinated by Monsanto varieties.
Having the only source of viable seeds be Monsanto is worse than foolish.
Maybe you want to lick the boot of big agri-business and their government lackeys to get your daily ration of Soylent Green but not all of us have surrendered.
Agree 110% !!!!!
“...why should people or companies own a disease in the first place? They didnt invent it. Yet today, more than 20 human pathogens are privately owned...”
If someone owns a disease that I affecting me, can I take legal action against them because they are not controlling what they own and it’s harming me? After all, if someone’s dog bites me I may be able to sue them or even have them arrested. Same goes (some places at least) if I slip on ice that’s on someone’s open to the public property.
Sorry, too late, Monsanto is already busy doing this, for years.
So far, it works the other way around, Monsanto be suing all the little farmers, organic or no.
That is indeed brilliant (not sarcasm). A precedent like that would fix the entire problem in 24 hours.
We have the best courts money can buy!!!
Buy? Haha! They’re just blackmailed with the dirt in their past ... like the treasonous pirate Roberts.
Yep, about the only thing thing we don’t have is Rule of Law.
HAHA, and as a sidebar, ppl end up consuming it either way ya look at it—indirectly through the animals who eat it, or directly to humans.
The big-government/big-corporate criminal monopoly thanks you for your support.
We have a few more laws we would like to pass to strengthen our monopoly. Can we count on your support in the future?
Screw enough farmers and we’ll all starve. That has happened in other totalitarian countries.
I dont know a thing about soybeans. If they self-fertilize then this guy is copying monsantos product. If any cross-fertilization from non-monsanto stock has occured than its a new product, Round-up resistant though it may be.
Soybeans self-pollinate. It's actually very difficult to get a soybean plant to be pollinated by an different plant.
I'm not sure how that makes a difference. If Monsanto can claim patent infringement, they can do so on a derivative product. The gene is their IP, not the beans.
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For years and years the government has controlled farmers and what they do via “farm assistance programs” and it has done nothing but promote policies and controls on what farmers can do and what is profitable to farmers to the point where a lot of farmers plant corn because they will get a subsidy and other grain that would normally be grown 50 years ago is ignored as we move to the corn mono-culture through the midwest that Monsanto and ADM control exclusively.
Growing up on a farm this whole thing is sickening to me.
They are controlling the farmer and skewing natural markets which hurts every small farmer and helps no one but big agra-business.
I believe there is a case brewing by some organic farmers that they cannot grow organic with GMO crops nearby because of pollination with the GMO. The court has already ruled against companies using ‘terminator’ genes that make the product of planted seed sterile.
This man is buying commodity beans. They have many uses besides feed. The elevator resells the beans to the highest bidder for whatever they need them for. Remember these are beans from many farmers and many varieties and some are not GMO. There could even be GMO seed the patent has run out on in the mix. He is buying a mixed up mess using it for seed. He is not buying pure GMO seed or a certain variety so I do not see where Monsanto has a claim. The farmer, on purchase of the commodity beans does not even know if the seeds will grow.
I’m not sure how I think about this, I can see both sides. Ever go to a tree & plant nursery? You probably have bought Rose plants if you are a home owner, maybe a fruit tree or two also. Guess what? Most all of the nursery produced plants are patented. It is listed right on the label it is called P.P.A.F. and it will list a number and the warning this plant is prohibited for reproduction without a license.
It has been that way for many moons. Roses are marketed as “Patented Roses” in many outlets. Commercial and hobby plant breeders apply for a patent so they can send their product out to the vast network of growers nation and worldwide and get paid for their inventions while the consumer enjoys the fruit of the patent holder’s talents.
How is this different?
They represent a SMALLER problem in comparison to our "OUT OF CONTROL" Federal Government.
BOTH need to be brought under control and their power CHECKED soon!
“Otherwise, buying feed beans at feed prices implies a limitation on their use.”
Nope. If he intentionally bought a certain variety specifially for planting yes.
This guy just went to the elevator and bought beans to plant. He had no idea what he was getting.
Totally against our nations principals to prohibit something like this. We are a nation of free people. Free from government and from corporate over reach.
>> “ Monsantos supporters say advances in health and environmental research are endangered.” <<
Since when is a ride down a slippery slope considered an “advance.”
Health requires the stuff God gave us, not GMO poisons.
The line between government and corporate gets more blurred with each passing day.
But cross polinated beans, if such things occur, would contain DNA unique from the patented Monsanto product.
>> “How is this different?” <<
Did the seed have “Thou shalt not plant” stenciled on it?
If they sold it without binders and disclaimers, it would be the merchant, not the grower that erred.
>> “But cross polinated beans, if such things occur, would contain DNA unique from the patented Monsanto product.” <<
If they were grown in open fields near other varieties, that would most likely be so.
the courts have ALREADY ruled that we do not own our own DNA. A researcher can TAKE your dna and develope a multimillion dollar treatment and give you no compensation.
One need not test for any gene. The most accurate and sensitive test for cancer is the “H.C.G.” test, that relies solely on the presence of HCG to discern if cancer is present in the body, and it is really cheap: $75 plus postage.
Had he purchased a book, photocopied it and sold off the copies, wouldn’t he have violated the copyright?
For example a farmer can’t be allowed to sell the Monsanto QWERTY 8765 soybean variety from his bin that he grew; that is a Monsanto variety.
But they also are not allowed to intimidate someone who does what this old guy is doing.
? HCG detects pregnancy.
You may not own yours but monsanto doesn’t automatically own a hybrid they never patented. To my knowledge that issue has not been adjudicated by any court of competent jurisdiction.
Don’t you think having large corporations corner the seed market and engineer non-viable seeds might be a little on the stupid side?
Our food supply chain is already so fragile, if we had some major anything happen, this type of thinking would seem to compound the issue.