Today, the Supreme Court is set to begin hearing a case
between agrochemical giant Monsanto and a farmer who figured out a way
around Monsanto's strict requirement that its customers buy new
varieties of its genetically modified soybean seeds every year.
The farmer, 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman, attempted to grow two soybean crops on his farm
beginning in 1999. The first crop was Monsanto's patented genetically
modified soybeans, which are resistant to the company's weed-killer
chemical Roundup. Then Bowman planted another crop using cheaper mixed
soybean seeds purchased from a grain elevator, which are usually used
for livestock feed and not grown for human consumption.
But the many of seeds Bowman bought from the grain elevator also
contained Monsanto's patented genetic modifications, and though the
company can't stop farmers from selling their leftover Monsanto seeds to
grain elevators, it does have agreements prohibiting its customers from
saving its seeds from year to year. Because he acquired Monsanto's
seeds through this cheaper resale channel and grew them in the same
fashion as seeds bought direct from Monsanto, the company sued Bowman
for patent infringement, winning an $84,000 judgment
in Indiana district court in 2007. Monsanto has sued hundreds of other
small farmers for the same reason, and many have settled, but Bowman's
is the first case to be heard by the nation's highest court.