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THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE


20 January 2005



Dear friends and colleagues,

RE: MONSANTO VS US FARMERS

We wish to bring to your attention a new report by the Center of Food Safety entitled "Monsanto vs. US Farmers" which documents the extent to which American farmers have been impacted by litigation arising from the use of patented genetically engineered crops produced by Monsanto.

In general, Monsanto's efforts to prosecute farmers can be divided into three stages: investigations of farmers, out-of-court settlements, and litigation against farmers Monsanto believes are in breach of contract or engaged in patent infringement. The report notes that, to date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers in 25 states that involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies. Monsanto has set aside an annual budget of US$10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.

"Monsanto would like nothing more than to be the sole source for staple crop seeds in this country and around the world," said Joseph Mendelson, Center for Food Safety legal director. "And it will aggressively overturn centuries-old farming practices and drive its own clients out of business through lawsuits to achieve this goal."

The largest recorded judgment that was found thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is US$3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to US$15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid an average of US$412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments. Many farmers have to pay additional court and attorney fees and are sometimes even forced to pay the costs Monsanto incurs while investigating them.

Farmers even have been sued after their fields were contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else's genetically engineered crop; when seed from a previous year's crop has sprouted, or "volunteered," in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year; and when they never signed Monsanto's Technology Agreement but still planted the patented crop seed. In all of these cases, because of the way patent law has been applied, farmers are technically liable. It does not appear to matter if the use was unwitting or if a contract was never signed.

The Executive summary of the report is attached below. The full report can be downloaded here.

Also please find an IPS report related to the new study.

With best wishes,
 
Lim Li Lin and Chee Yoke Heong
Third World Network
121-S Jalan Utama
10450 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twnet@po.jaring.my
Website: www.twnside.org.sg


REF: Doc.TWN/Biosafety/2005/J

Item 1

Executive Summary

In May 2003, the Center for Food Safety embarked on a project to determine the extent to which American farmers have been impacted by litigation arising from the use of patented genetically engineered crops. After extensive research and numerous interviews with farmers and lawyers, CFS found that Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed.

Monsanto's position as a leader in the field of agricultural biotechnology and its success in contractually binding farmers to its genetically engineered seeds result from its concerted effort to control patents on genetic engineering technology, seed germplasm, and a farmer's use of its engineered seed. Monsanto begins the process of seizing control of farmers' practices by getting them to sign the company's technology agreement upon purchasing patented seeds. This agreement allows Monsanto to conduct property investigations, exposes the farmer to huge financial liability, binds the farmer to Monsanto's oversight for multiple years, and includes a variety of other conditions that have effectively defined what rights a farmer does and does not have in planting, harvesting, and selling genetically engineered seed.

In general, Monsanto's efforts to prosecute farmers can be divided into three stages: investigations of farmers, out-of-court settlements, and litigation against farmers Monsanto believes are in breach of contract or engaged in patent infringement. Monsanto itself admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects of transgressions, and evidence suggests the numbers reach into the thousands. According to farmers interviewed by CFS, these thousands of investigations frequently lead to the second stage: Monsanto pressuring the farmer to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum and other terms agreed to in confidential settlements.

For some farmers, Monsanto's investigation of them will lead to the courtroom. To date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers. The lawsuits involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies, and have been directed at farmers residing in half of the states in the U.S. The odds are clearly stacked against the farmer: Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers.

The largest recorded judgment made thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is $3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid a mean of $412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments. Startling though these numbers are, they do not begin to tell the whole story. Many farmers have to pay additional court and attorney fees and are sometimes even forced to pay the costs Monsanto incurs while investigating them. Final monetary awards are not available for a majority of the 90 lawsuits CFS researched due to the confidential nature of many of the settlements.

No farmer is safe from the long reach of Monsanto. Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else's genetically engineered crop; when genetically engineered seed from a previous year's crop has sprouted, or "volunteered," in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year; and when they never signed Monsanto's technology agreement but still planted the patented crop seed. In all of these cases, because of the way patent law has been applied, farmers are technically liable. It does not appear to matter if the use was unwitting or a contract was never signed.

Since the introduction of genetically engineered crops, farming for thousands of America's farmers has been fundamentally altered; they have been forced into dangerous and uncharted territory and have found they are the worse for it. As growing numbers of farmers become subject to harassment, investigation, and prosecution by Monsanto over supposed infringement of its seed patents and technology agreements, there will have to be increased pressure to reverse the governmental policies that are allowing this persecution. Various policy options include passing local and state-wide bans or moratoriums on plantings of genetically engineered crops; amending the Patent Act so that genetically engineered plants will no longer be patentable subject matter and so that seed saving is not considered patent infringement; and legislating to prevent farmers from being liable for patent infringement through biological
pollution. Implementation of these, and a variety of other options discussed in more detail in the report, is critical. Nothing less than the future of America's farmers and farming communities is at stake.


Item 2
 

Monsanto "Seed Police" Scrutinise Farmers
By Stephen Leahy

BROOKLIN, Canada, Jan 14 (IPS) - Agribusiness giant Monsanto has sued more than 100 U.S. farmers, and its "seed police" have investigated thousands of others, for what the company terms illegal use of its patented genetically engineered seeds, and activists charge is "corporate extortion".

Monsanto prohibits farmers from saving seed from varieties that have been genetically engineered (GE) to kill bugs and resist ill-effects from the herbicide glyphosate (sold under the brand name Roundup).

Kem Ralph of Covington, Tennessee is believed to be the first farmer to have gone to jail for saving and replanting Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy seed in 1998. Ralph spent four months behind bars and must also pay the company 1.8 million dollars in penalties.

In total, U.S. courts have awarded Monsanto more than 15 million dollars, according to a new report by the Washington-based Centre for Food Safety (CFS) called "Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers".

"Monsanto's business plan for GE crops depends on suing farmers," said Joe Mendelson, legal director for CFS.

It is the first detailed study of how U.S. farmers have been impacted by litigation arising from the use of GE crops.

In an interview with IPS, a company spokesperson said Monsanto was well within its rights to enforce patent laws. "Monsanto has never sued a farmer who unknowingly planted our seeds," said Chris Horner.

When asked how the company differentiates between intentional and unintentional use Horner said: "You can tell just by looking at field."

"It's not like we're actively going out to find farmers who illegally use our seed," he added. "But if it comes to our attention we'll look into it."

Horner confirmed that Monsanto provides a toll-free phone number for farmers to report suspected abuses by other growers.

While refusing to comment on the accuracy of the CFS report, Horner said it only looks at a very small group of its customer base. "We have more than 300,000 licenses with growers that use our products."

According to the report, court awards are just a fraction of the money the company has extracted from farmers. Hundreds of farmers are believed to have been coerced into secret settlements over the past eight years to avoid going to court.

Farmers generally lack the knowledge and the legal representation to defend themselves against Monsanto's allegations, Mendelson said at a press conference Thursday.

"Often, there's no proof offered but farmers give up without a fight," he said.

Very little is known about the terms of these settlements, but in one instance, a North Carolina farmer agreed to pay 1.5 million dollars, he said.

Monsanto has a budget of 10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers, the report said.

The tactic has proved very successful. In 2004, nearly 85 percent of all soy and canola were GE varieties. Three-quarters of U.S. cotton and nearly half of corn is also GE.

Monsanto controls roughly 90 percent of GE soy, cotton and canola seed markets and has a large piece of the corn seed market.

The issue of GE crops and small farmers has featured prominently at the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual gathering of civil society groups from around the globe that has called for a moratorium on biotech agriculture.

Monsanto, in particular, has been singled out for "forcing GE crops on Brazil and the rest of the rest of the world", according to the environmental group Greenpeace.

This year's WSF takes place Jan. 26-31 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and will present a new chance for anti-GE campaigners to compare notes on the successes, and setbacks, of the movement in the last year.

So why don't farmers just buy non-GE seed? North Dakota farmer Rodney Nelson says there is actually very little conventional seed left to buy anymore because seed dealers don't make nearly as much money from them.

Monsanto charges technology use fees ranging from 6.25 dollars per bag for soy to an average of 230 dollars for cotton -- more than three times the cost of conventional cotton seed. The company argues these fees are necessary to recoup its research investment.

The other problem is that some non-GE seed is now contaminated by Monsanto's patented genes, Nelson said.

Monsanto sued Nelson and his family in 1999 for patent infringement, charging they had saved Roundup Ready soybean seeds on their 8,000-acre farm. Two years of legal hell ensued, Nelson said. The matter ended with an out of court settlement that he is forbidden to talk about. "We won, but we feel forever tainted."

The report contains a number of similar individual stories that often end in bankruptcy for the farmer.

Even if a farmer decides to stop using Monsanto seeds, the GE plants self-seed and some will spring up of their own accord the following year. These unwanted "volunteers" can keep popping up for five or more years after a farmer stops using the patented seeds.

Under U.S. patent law, a farmer commits an offense even if they unknowingly plant Monsanto's seeds without purchasing them from the company. Other countries have similar laws.

In the well-known case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, pollen from a neighbour's GE canola fields and seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a processing plant ended up contaminating his fields with Monsanto's genetics.

The trial court ruled that no matter how the GE plants got there, Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto's legal rights when he harvested and sold his crop. After a six-year legal battle, Canada's Supreme Court ruled that while Schmeiser had technically infringed on Monsanto's patent, he did not have to pay any penalties.

Schmeiser, who spoke at last year's World Social Forum in India, says it cost 400,000 dollars to defend himself.

"Monsanto should held legally responsible for the contamination," he said.

Another North Dakota farmer, Tom Wiley, explains the situation this way: "Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use and cannot sell."

"It's a corporation out of control," says Andrew Kimbrell, the executive director of CFS.

Unfortunately, he adds, there will be no help for farmers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration as key positions are occupied by former Monsanto employees and the company has a powerful lobby in Washington.

To help farmers facing lawsuits or threats from Monsanto, the CFS has established a toll-free hotline to get guidance and referrals: 1-888-FARMHLP

Among other actions, the CFS supports local and state-wide moratoriums on planting GE crops, and laws to prevent farmers from being liable for patent infringement through biological pollution. (END/2005)

 


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