Royalties to Plant a Garden? Monsanto Case Has High Stakes

Over the past several months, a case has been working its way through the system pitting a small-town farmer against agribusiness giant Monsanto.  The case, like 145 others brought by the corporation, hinges on what CNN called “unusual planting methods” by 76 year old farmer Hugh Bowman.  The unusual method?  Planting seeds without paying a royalty.

No, really… they’re suing him for the “unusual” practice of planting the seeds generated by the previous year’s crops because it violates their intellectual property.

For anyone who never took an elementary school biology class or, you know, had a yard, here’s how farming works:  You get seeds, you plant them, crops grow, and you harvest them.  Contained in the crop, you find seeds… seeds which can be replanted to grow more crops.  It’s Nature 101.  It’s not “unusual” to plant the seeds from a previous harvest.  It’s common sense.

Unfortunately for the 146 farmers taken to court by Monsanto, the government tends to disagree with common sense.  So far, the company hasn’t lost, and the statements of Supreme Court Justices read like press releases from the company itself.  “There are certain things that the law prohibits,” according to Monsanto rep Justice Stephen Breyer. “What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention. And that is what he did.”

Consider the implications:  A corporate giant with an expressly demonstrated contempt for the common farmer taking the food supply hostage, demanding a yearly ransom for permission to grow soybeans, corn, and other crops they’ve patented.  With Apple, Samsung and others all working around the clock to prevent each other from accomplishing anything through the use of patent trolling and frivolous lawsuits, it’s easy to see how quickly this could spiral out of control, severely disrupt the food supply, and bankrupt some of our nation’s hardest (and most underpaid) workers.

This is only for GMOs, though.  One side of the argument says that we should just tell all the farmers not to use GMOs.  It seems that this would be a pretty simple request, and one that would likely benefit the population as a whole, even if it did cut deeply into the margins of already stretched farmers.  Let’s just say we found a way to keep farmers profitable without Monsanto’s “intellectual property.”  What could Monsanto do about that?

First, they’ve bought a vast majority of their smaller competitors.  That’s one way to get an advantage on the competition.  Through lobbying, they’ve also created regulations that severely restrict the use of equipment, storage facilities, and substances that may “contaminate” crops, such as… and I’m not kidding here… manure.  Not included in the list of contaminates?  Harsh lab-created chemical weedkillers and pesticides.  Right.

Most damning, though, is the lawsuit brought forth by 300,000 farmers and farming service providers to protect them from “infringement” cases arising through cross-pollination.  Scientifically, this is a real and present issue, but legally, it was ruled by the pro-Monsanto court as “unreasonable.”  If nature happens and their crops are hook up with some neighboring GMO crops, they can be held responsible for abusing the “intellectual property” of Monsanto’s seeds.

(I recommend checking out the links in the DailyKos article above to learn more.  Be wary when you’re out there Googling for more news:  The Monsanto issue is a favorite of tin-foil hat types and it’s easy to stumble from rational defense of farmers into batsh-t crazy territory.)

So it comes down to this.  Intimidation, buying up the competition, patent trolling, lobbying, aiding in the creation of regulations that harm small farmers and boost their own bottom line.  All the hallmarks of a bad corporate citizen.

I watched The Lorax last night (it’s on Netflix) and felt the message loud and clear.  I’m sure quite a few others did, as well.  The interesting thing to me is that we all rooted for Ted in the movie and we all cheered when common sense and the little guy won out against unethical, immoral, irresponsible corporate behavior in the name of profit, but here we have a real-life Mr. O’Hare’s Air and nobody’s standing up for the good guy.  We’re burying our heads in the sand.

I’ve asked before, but I really want to know:

Are you mad as hell yet?  What are you going to do about it?