Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Round Up Ready?

No, Not That Kind of Round Up Ready

This Kind of Round Up Ready


Genetically Modified Patents

Vernon Bowman a 75 year old Indiana farmer has ran afoul of the agricultural behemoth Monsanto with the replanting of second generation genetically modified crop seeds.


RoundUp is a popular broad-spectrum (kills most anything) herbicide used in both agricultural and residential applications, you're probably familiar with it.  The active ingredient is glyphosate and it kills plants by intefering with amino acid synthesis.

RoundUp Ready

RoundUp Ready crops have a gene taken from Agrobacterium CP4 inserted into their genetic code providing them with glyphosate resistance, meaning you can plant them and spray the field with RoundUp killing everything but the genetically modified crop.

Vernon Bowman

Vernon Bowman plants a primary crop of Monsanto GM Soybeans every year.  Every year after harvesting his winter wheat he plants a second, relatively low-yield crop of soybeans.  Rather than pay a premium for a second batch of GM soybeans he goes to the local grain elevator and purchases a batch of commodity soybeans, soybeans intended for the general market and not being sold as seed.

The assumption is that if the bulk soybeans in the grain elevator are primarily Monsanto GM soybeans , then they will be second generation and still carry the glyphosate resistance of the parent generation.  Mr. Bowman complies with the terms of his agreement with Monsanto by not saving and replanting soybeans from his primary crop.  He purchases "junk" soybeans with no guarantee of being RoundUp ready.

And on to the Supremes

The patent violation case has reached the Supreme Court, much to the chagrin of the Obama administration which supports Monsanto, and arguments are scheduled for today.  Those on Mr. Bowman's side argue patent exhaustion. The concept of patent exhaustion is a common law (uncodified) doctrine and is why if I sell you my I-Phone, neither of us have to pay royalties to Apple.  The argument against Monsanto is that the controlled or patented sale occurs from Monsanto to the farmer,  the sale of the crop from the farmer to the grain elevator is an unrestricted sale, thus subsequent transactions are also unrestricted.

The argument for Monsanto is that they have "intellectual property rights of significance to the entire agricultural biotechnology industry" in the seeds and in subsequent generations.  Allowing farmers to plant second generation seeds pretty much nullifies their patent, would have cataclysmic repercussions, and would basically end the agricultural biotech industry.

So far a lower court and Federal District court have ruled in favor of Monsanto,  ordering Mr. Bowman to pay $84,456.  The issue for the Supreme Court is just how many generations does Monsanto's patent apply to?  Also at issue is the price of crop seed,  the price of soybeans has tripled  over the past two decades and unpatented seeds are getting more and more difficult to obtain. The long agricultural practice of planting and setting aside a seed crop for the next season is virtually extinct.

No comments: