Thursday, April 4, 2013

Understanding the Monsanto Protection Act

It was heartwarming to see the coverage and outright anger that was stirred by Section 735 of the "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, now known as the Monsanto Protection Act.  Anonymously snuck in as a rider to an appropriations bills that helped to prevent a government shut-down, the provision was never debated  nor did it undergo a formal committee hearing.  In a nutshell, the provision protects big biotech firms like Monsanto from being sued if their genetically-modified seeds cause illness or environmental problems.  

Environmentalists, farmers, consumer advocates and even tea party activists have fought against this bill and the legal precedent it sets.  As written, the provision, effectively bars federal courts from being able to stop the sale or planting of genetically modified seeds, giving Monstanto carte blanche to continue to dominate the ag markets with their GMO seeds.  Their biggest profits come from their corn and soybean seeds which are tolerant of pesticides such as round-up.

It comes across as slightly hypocritical that Monsanto would push for a bill that effectively protects it from litagation since the corporation is notorious for attacking small farmers with huge lawsuits.  Since 1997, Monsanto has filed suit against 144 farmers, mostly for saving seed from one season and planting them the next, a time-honored practice in the farming community.  In almost all cases, Monsanto has won.  Monsanto in effect has put a patent on  the source of life, claiming that they not only have the patent right to the genes of plants, but that they can control when and how successive generations of that seed are used.  

The Ag-Tech giant recently went after a 75-year old Indiana farmer for saving seeds that weren't even known to be Monsanto's infamous roundup ready soybeans.  Vernon Bowman bought a mix of seeds from a grain elevator that weren't identified as being from Monsanto as a backup fall planting.  Monsanto sued anyway and the Supreme Court recently ruled in their favor stating that Bowman copied a patented invention.  

There are still a number of seed companies that like Territorial Seed Company and Fedco that refuse to sell GMO's and who are proud supports of small farms.   Like farmers, these companies understand that the natural replication of plants can't be owned and controlled by one corporation.  In fact, all farmers should be encouraged to save seed and replant as it encourages diversity and strength within the species.


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