‘Seed Police’ takes hard line


Brooklin, January 15:

Agribusiness giant Monsanto has sued more than 100 US 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 in penalties.

In total, US courts have awarded Monsanto more than $15 million, according to a new report by the Washington-based Centre for Food Safety (CFS) called ‘Monsanto vs US 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 US 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. Horner confirmed that Monsanto provides a toll-free phone number for farmers to report suspected abuses by other growers.