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Monday, February 07, 2005

Did you know that farmers sign technology agreements when buying seed?

Farmers that purchase Monsanto's seeds must sign a "Monsanto Technology/Stewardship Agreement" (samples: 2003 Agreement, 2002 Agreement).

The Agreement require, among others, that the farmer agree:

  • To use Seed containing Monsanto Technologies solely for planting a single commercial crop.
  • Not to supply any Seed containing patented Monsanto Technologies to any other person or entity for planting. Not to save any crop produced from this Seed for planting and not to supply Seed produced from this Seed to anyone for planting.

Monsanto aggressively protects its patent rights and enforces its agreements according to this AP story, via Yahoo! News: Enforcing single-season seeds, Monsanto sues American farmers.

According to the article, Monsanto has sued farmer Homan McFarling for saving seed from one harvest and replanting the seeds the following season. A no-no according to Monsanto's Technology Agreement. But a practice past down from generation to generation.

"My daddy saved seed. I saved seed," said McFarling.
McFarling is not alone. According to the Center for Food Safety's Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers report (PDF):

  • Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits based upon purported violations of its technology agreement and its patents on genetically engineered seed technology.
  • These cases involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses/farm companies
The Center describes Monsanto's practice as follows:

Monsanto's position as a leader in the field of agricultural biotechnology and its success in contractually binding farmers to its genetically engineered seeds result from its concerted effort to control patents on genetic engineering technology, seed germplasm, and a farmer's use of its engineered seed. Monsanto begins the process of seizing control of farmers' practices by getting them to sign the company's technology agreement upon purchasing patented seeds. This agreement allows Monsanto to conduct property investigations, exposes the farmer to huge financial liability, binds the farmer to Monsanto's oversight for multiple years, and includes a
variety of other conditions that have effectively defined what rights a farmer does and does not have in planting, harvesting, and selling genetically engineered seed.

Monsanto defends it's practice as protecting its investment in its Intellectual Property. The AP article has this to say in Monsanto's defense:

The company said the licensing agreement protects its more than 600 biotech-related patents and ensures a return on its research and development expenses, which amount to more than $400 million annually.

"We have to balance our obligations and our responsibilities to our customers, to our employees and to our shareholders," said Scott Baucum, Monsanto's chief intellectual property protector.

World wide concern?

Monsanto's licensing contracts and litigation tactics are coming under increased scrutiny as more of the planet's farmland comes under genetically engineered cultivation.
Some even worry that big agri-business is influencing US-Iraq policy. For example, many point to the Coalition Provisional Authority's Order 81 (PDF) as yet another example of the Bush administration restricting, rather than liberating, the Iraqi people. Order 81 amends Iraq's patent laws and adds a new Plant Variety Protection law. One commentator suggest that:
Basically Order 81 is outlawing the prehistoric practice of saving seeds for next year's crop ... A farmer buying seeds these days does not own the seeds. He merely buys the use of the plants and plant products produced for the season planted. Corporate America is intent on retaining ownership of any future food products by successful lobbying for legislation to prevent the collection and storage of seed produced during that season, claiming ownership by virtue of genetic development. Ergo, the next season, the farmer has to buy rights to the plants all over again...At the new adjusted price. And he probably grew the seeds, collected, stored them and returned them to the seed company because they claim they created them. All so he could buy them again.
Well, that's not actually the case. This whole overreaction was probably due to an original report by Focus on the Global South and GRAIN, which "is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge."

The original article may have given the impression that Order 81 prohibits saving seed from season to season, however the organizations issued a corrected article (albeit still sensationally titled Iraq's new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers) with the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION - February 2005

The report jointly issued by Focus on the Global South and GRAIN in October 2004 on Iraq's new patent law has received a lot of attention worldwide. It has also generated a misunderstanding that we wish to clarify.

The law does not prohibit Iraqi farmers from using or saving "traditional" seeds. It prohibits them from reusing seeds of "new" plant varieties registered under the law - in practical terms, this means they cannot save those seeds for re-use. The report has been revised to express this more clearly.

But, I digress. The moral of the story is, read your agreements, especially when it affects your livelihood.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha, Just sell the farm while the crop is growing but before it produces seed. Then the next farmer is not bound by the fragments of the agreement you posted. Monsanto doesn't (according to the fragment) require a farmer to obligate a purchaser of the crop, just the farmer himself.

3:36 PM  

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