Quantcast

Farmer vs. Monsanto Reaches U.S. Supreme Court

GMO

Pesticide Action Network

[Editor's note: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely to side with Monsanto Co. in its claim that an Indiana farmer violated the company's patents on soybean seeds that are resistant to its weed-killer. The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.]

Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer, accompanied by his attorney Mark Walters, outside the Supreme Court in Washington yesterday after the U.S. Supreme heard arguments in the case Bowman v. Monsanto.

The 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer Hugh Vernon Bowman is facing off with Monsanto in front of the Supreme Court. Five years ago, Monsanto sued Bowman for seed patent infringement and won. Now the high court is hearing the farmer's appeal.

Monsanto's aggressive pursuit of patent infringement lawsuits like Bowman v. Monsanto is well documented in a recent report by the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds. As of January 2013, the corporation had filed 144 suits against 410 farmers in 27 states. Corn and soybean growers across the country will be watching the outcome of Bowman v. Monsanto case very closely.

For years now, farmers have been forced to pay for ever-more expensive seeds that don't perform as advertised and are increasingly the only market-viable (i.e. "elite") seeds they can find. When they look to other seed sources, they are dogged by patent infringement lawsuits.

Taking a stand against Monsanto's harassment of farmers, Bowman continues to assert his right to save seed and rejects the corporate giant's claims that he violated patent law.

Who owns seeds?

The crux of the case hinges on whether Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered (GE) plants ever expire. As Andrew Pollack writes in the New York Times:

"At stake in Mr. Bowman’s case is whether patents on seeds—or other things that can self-replicate—extend beyond the first generation of the products."

Bowman readily admits that he bought conventional seed mixed with Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready seed from a grain elevator, planted it and then saved the next generation of seed. He acknowledges that he deliberately saved the seed (as farmers have done for thousands of years), and even admits he knew he was saving seed from RoundUp Ready plants, because those were the only plants in his field that had survived his application of Monsanto’s flagship herbicide, RoundUp.

But Bowman maintains that he has done nothing either wrong or illegal, because:

  • grain elevators are allowed to buy both kinds of seeds from farmers and are not required to segregate patented GE seed from conventional seed and
  • when he bought the mixed seed (known technically as “commodity seed”) he never signed any kind of “technology agreement” with Monsanto restricting him from saving that seed.

A chink in Monsanto's armor

Back in 2008, the Supreme Court decided there are limits to just how far a patent-holder can go in forcing those further down a supply chain from continuing to license their patents. The limit is known as “patent exhaustion,” and Monsanto is demanding it be released from this limitation.

If the Supreme Court finds in favor of the corporation in Bowman v. Monsanto, then the patents will never expire and Monsanto will retain control of their seed in perpetuity.

If the Court finds in favor of Bowman, Monsanto will still hold most of the cards in the deck, but farmers will have reclaimed a small amount of control.

The Supreme Court's decision on Bowman v. Monsanto case will impact the livelihood of countless farmers.

History of a bully

Over the years, Monsanto has committed tremendous resources to watch-dogging farmers and pursuing litigating: 75 employees and a dedicated $10 million dollar budget as of 2003, according to the Ceneter for Food Safety report released last week.

Report authors also cite that by the end of 2012, Monsanto had received more than $423.5 million from patent infringement lawsuits against farmers and farm businesses, although "depicting the full scope of the industry’s pursuit of farmers is nearly impossible because many cases are settled by confidential out-of-court settlements."

If the Supreme Court decides in favor of Bowman in this suit, it will set an important precedent and potentially curb Monsanto's ability to legally harass farmers across the U.S.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

Tell the FDA to Deny Approval of GE Salmon:

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less