Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Farmer vs. biotech: Supreme Court will decide if soybean seeds get copy protection

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.

Monsanto has sued hundreds of other small farmers for the same reason


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