Seed giant Monsanto has won more than $23 million from hundreds of small farmers accused of replanting the company’s genetically engineered seeds. Now, another case is looming – and it could set a landmark precedent for the future of seed ownership.
The lawsuits concern Monsanto’s patent rights as the company strives to prevent farmers from replanting crops grown from the company’s seeds. It’s a concept that a study published on Tuesday – titled ‘Seed Giants vs. US Farmers’ – referred to as creating a “seed oligarchy.”
In the report, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) said it discovered 142 patent infringement suits against 410 farmers and 56 small businesses in more than 27 states as of December 2012. The amount of money pocketed by Monsanto comes to a whopping $23 million. The study was co-produced by the Save our Seeds (SOS) campaign.
Another case is now on the horizon, and it’s drawing wide public attention: The verdict of the trial will determine who controls the rights to seeds planted in the ground.
It will also determine whether patent owners of other products which can make copies of themselves – such as stem cells and strains of bacteria used for medical research – and can continue to control the use of their products after selling them. It’s a scenario that wasn’t even considered until recently.
“We’re dealing with laws and doctrines that were developed in the 19th century, where the idea of self-replicating technologies didn’t exist,” Jorge Contreras, associate law professor at American University in Washington told Bloomberg Businessweek.
It’s been dubbed a ‘David and Goliath’ trial by many, as multi-billion-dollar Monsanto goes head to head against 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who said that fighting for justice is his main concern.
“I really don’t consider it as David and Goliath,” Bowman told the Guardian. “I don’t think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong.”