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Roundup all the farmers
October 11, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

"Farmer Bowman began purchasing Monsanto’s patented seeds in 1999 and, because of the licensing agreement, did not save any of the seed for future planting. But he also bought so-called “commodity” seed from a local grain elevator, which acts as a clearinghouse for farmers to buy and sell seed. But given that more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted in the area were Roundup Ready crops, the elevator’s seed was contaminated with Monsanto’s patented seed. Farmer Bowman planted that commodity seed, which was substantially cheaper to purchase, to produce a second, late-season crop, which is generally more risky and lower yielding. He then used seeds generated in one late-season harvest to help produce subsequent late-season crops. Monsanto sued him for patent infringement, and he lost."

There are links in the article to pdfs of the legal documents discussed, but I'll put them here as well.

Amicus Brief

Brief in Oppositionf

Bowman v Monsanto Petition
posted by sio42 (105 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
The administration said Congress “is better equipped than this court” [...] to consider those concerns.

Congress isn't better equipped than anyone to do anything. They said that with a straight face?
posted by axiom at 10:19 AM on October 11, 2012 [21 favorites]


There was a report on Monsanto's tactics of this sort back when I was in law school. I'm sad to see that they are still up to their old tricks.

Yep, here it is: Monsanto v. US Farmers.

To me, this illustrates two things:

1) there are a lot of reasons to oppose GMOs that are based in concerns about ownership and property, rather than woo.
2) asserting a patent on something that naturally replicates itself in the wild is at least a little absurd.
posted by gauche at 10:22 AM on October 11, 2012 [65 favorites]


Not surprised. Hasn't Monsanto successfully sued farmers in the past in cases where roundup seed blew onto their land from adjacent fields?
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:26 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


jesus fucking christ. why don't we just all line up at monsanto headquarters' bread line every morning for our black crust and thin borscht and be done with it.
posted by spicynuts at 10:26 AM on October 11, 2012 [33 favorites]


asserting a patent on something that naturally replicates itself in the wild is at least a little absurd

Just like ideas and, now that it's electronic, other information.
posted by DU at 10:29 AM on October 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Can't read it. Too insanely and crushingly depressing. I've read similar stories at least twice before. If a farmer's crop of the damned seeds blow onto your fields and contaminate, they can sue you and win! Even if you don't want their crap!

As gauche mentioned, it's pure disgusting insanity that they can make farmers purchase a thing every single year that should be a free and natural part of the harvesting process.

And isn't it one of their products killing the bees, too? Gah.
posted by Glinn at 10:29 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Monsanto suing nature for cross-pollinating is nothing new. They've been doing this for more than 20 years.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's new is that the Supreme Court is going to hear the case.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:32 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


The original Roundup patent expires in 2014. But don't worry, they have a New! Improved! Roundup at the ready.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 10:36 AM on October 11, 2012


why don't we just all line up at monsanto headquarters' bread line every morning for our black crust and thin borscht and be done with it.

Citizen, that is defeatist talk. Better that we show up at Monsanto headquarters with our fellows and make them see the flaws in their business plans. Remember, Dr. Guillotine's invention has long since passed into the public domain....

Organisms of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but patent coverage, and you have a whole genome to gain!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:37 AM on October 11, 2012 [26 favorites]


Not surprised. Hasn't Monsanto successfully sued farmers in the past in cases where roundup seed blew onto their land from adjacent fields?


There have been, and Monsanto is horrible, but the most well known case of "blown-in seed", that of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was actually pretty clearly a lie by Schmeiser once he was caught. His "blown-in seed" was amazingly blown into perfect row after row after row of Monsanto product.

Unfortunately this case really weakened the farmer's position, at least around these parts.

But yeah, Monsanto = horrible.

In order to test whether or not you are using their herbicide resistant seed they fly over your land and drop water balloons full of their herbicide, then a week later they fly over again. If your crop has a big dead circle where they dropped the herbicide then they know you are following the law and are not using their seed.... you are left with circles of burnt out crop but hey, at least they know you are a good, rule-following farmer now.
posted by Cosine at 10:38 AM on October 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


So, Monsanto is going to provide free genetic testing equipment to all farmers now. Right?
posted by stoneweaver at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of the JPG going around on facebook about GMO food, something like "exactly the same as regular food, which means it doesn't need labels or food safety tests, but completely different from regular food in that we can patent it, license it, and prevent you from replanting the seeds".
posted by fings at 10:43 AM on October 11, 2012 [15 favorites]


Can't read it. Too insanely and crushingly depressing. I've read similar stories at least twice before.

Me either. TD;DR.

Fuck Monsanto.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:46 AM on October 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


In order to test whether or not you are using their herbicide resistant seed they fly over your land and drop water balloons full of their herbicide, then a week later they fly over again. If your crop has a big dead circle where they dropped the herbicide then they know you are following the law and are not using their seed.... you are left with circles of burnt out crop but hey, at least they know you are a good, rule-following farmer now.

What the hell? Is this Wile E. Coyote horseshit for real?
posted by jquinby at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2012 [36 favorites]


What's new is that the Supreme Court is going to hear the case.

Hahahaha, yeah, that'll fix this whole mess right up. I'll see you guys back here in three months, when SCOTUSBlog breaks the news that Vernan Bowman owes Monsanto eleven years of indentured servitude, and that Monsanto is approved for its patent for all combinations of A, C, T, and G.
posted by Mayor West at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Inellectual property chokeholds are the real and possible most significant issue with GMO foods, secondarily the pesticide issue, but both infinitely moreso than the diffuse concerns about recombinant DNA that my worthless hippy-dippy Facebook friends seem obsessed with.

I hope the Supremes crush these inhuman assholes and their shitty business model.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I said it was new, not a reason for optimism.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:58 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


In order to test whether or not you are using their herbicide resistant seed...
They throw you into a well, and if you drown you're innocent? They start you on fire, and if you burn you're OK? They toss you in a pond to see whether you weigh more than a duck, or a log, or very small rocks?

I have relatives across the country who breed seed corn for a living, and I honestly don't know whether or not they work this way -- but God, I hope they don't.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:00 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In order to test whether or not you are using their herbicide resistant seed they fly over your land and drop water balloons full of their herbicide, then a week later they fly over again. If your crop has a big dead circle where they dropped the herbicide then they know you are following the law and are not using their seed.... you are left with circles of burnt out crop but hey, at least they know you are a good, rule-following farmer now.

This can't be true.
posted by notyou at 11:02 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


they fly over your land and drop water balloons full of their herbicide, then a week later they fly over again. If your crop has a big dead circle where they dropped the herbicide then they know you are following the law and are not using their seed

And this is somehow legal? Or does Monsanto at least have to pay for the crops they destroy?
posted by jeather at 11:05 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


> asserting a patent on something that naturally replicates itself in the wild is at least a little absurd

Just like ideas and, now that it's electronic, other information.

Uh, no. If I toss an old hard drive with Microsoft software or a copy of the New York Times on it in my compost heap it most definitely does not replicate itself the way a rotten GMO tomato does.
posted by XMLicious at 11:08 AM on October 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Monsanto: We do Predatory Mafia Capitalism right.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:09 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The ironic thing is that the genes responsible for Roundup-resistance have started migrating to other species. I'm just waiting for a farmer to get sued for the Roundup-resistant weeds in their fields...
posted by Slothrup at 11:12 AM on October 11, 2012


From the article:

Monsanto’s licensing terms allowed farmers to sell the seed produced by one Roundup Ready crop to grain elevators. But the terms also forbid unauthorized planting of those seeds.

I'm not sure what Monsanto expected people to do with the seeds farmers were allowed to sell to the grain elevators. Am I missing something?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:14 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The administration told the Supreme Court in a filing that the justices should not concern themselves with the possibility that such rigid patent protectionism could undermine traditional farming techniques,
“the first authorized sale of a single Roundup Ready soybean would extinguish all of [Monsanto's] patent rights to that soybean and to its progeny.”
"Monsanto agreed, telling the court that if it sided with the farmer, such a decision would doom its business model."

Dooming all traditional farming techniques = Fine.
Upsetting one large firms business model = Not fine.
posted by I Foody at 11:17 AM on October 11, 2012 [15 favorites]


What would it take for some enterprising young farmer to come along and say, 'Fuck you, Monsanto, I'm going to start a seed company that is the antithesis of you'?? What premium would other farmers pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing these seeds are mine to do with what I and my land please without the fear of endless litigation from the evil that is Monsanto?
posted by hangingbyathread at 11:18 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The movie Food, Inc. had a whole section on issues farmers have had with Monsanto, if you want to hear more about the problem. So, yes, this has been happening for awhile.
posted by bibbit at 11:18 AM on October 11, 2012


The inevitable collapse of monoculture corn (when the corn borer worm, or corn fungus, or whatever, evolves to thrive on GM corn) will resolve the issue, though at the cost of starving a bunch of people.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:19 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


(when the corn borer worm, or corn fungus, or whatever, evolves to thrive on GM corn)

And somehow, Monsanto will try to sue it.
posted by mrgoat at 11:21 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Intellectual/property rights in the realm of FOODCROPS is just fucking insane. Full stop.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:22 AM on October 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is striking me as similar to the case the SC is hearing on who really owns books after they are sold the first time. I planted some seeds in my garden recently. can the seed company come and demand that I turn over all the sugar snap peas I manage to grow in my poor sandy soil?
posted by mareli at 11:23 AM on October 11, 2012


The inevitable collapse of monoculture corn [...] will resolve the issue, though at the cost of starving a bunch of people.
posted by five fresh fish

Anti-eponysterical?
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:24 AM on October 11, 2012


Monsanto's headquarters is right outside of St. Louis...next door to Sara Lee. It's an American marriage of industries.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:26 AM on October 11, 2012


If I toss an old hard drive with Microsoft software or a copy of the New York Times on it in my compost heap it most definitely does not replicate itself the way a rotten GMO tomato does.

/dev/hda/ report_to_skynet: All is well. The humans slumber on, unaware.
posted by The Bellman at 11:28 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


As to Monsanto water-bombing crops, just google any combination of Monsanto Drops Roundup Bombs.

Besides all this, it's not like the GMO tech actually works anyway, well really it does, it works perfectly, for Monsanto:

The lie: Roundup Ready Canola seed will require much less Roundup to be used and will not be affected by the chemical, saving the farmer money.

The reality: Roundup Ready Canola does the exact opposite, it creates (it already has) weeds so much stronger that significantly GREATER amounts of Roundup are needed to keep the fields clean, which is EXACTLY WHAT MONSANTO WANTED FROM THE BEGINNING.
posted by Cosine at 11:32 AM on October 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


well clearly the way to make sure you're not using any monsanto product is to engineer a virus which specifically attacks and destroys roundup-ready plants. Release it on your land and you're good to go. Should the virus spread to other farms... well, I guess it's not your problem, right?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:33 AM on October 11, 2012 [17 favorites]


Monsanto’s licensing terms allowed farmers to sell the seed produced by one Roundup Ready crop to grain elevators. But the terms also forbid unauthorized planting of those seeds.

I'm not sure what Monsanto expected people to do with the seeds farmers were allowed to sell to the grain elevators. Am I missing something?


No unauthorized planting of seeds. Meaning that the farmer can sell the seed back to the local elevator but cannot buy that same seed back to use without signing a contract with Monsanto.
posted by Cosine at 11:35 AM on October 11, 2012


We'll never beat them through the judiciary, and they already own most of Congress, so if we want to take these assholes down, it's going to have to be through private means--we'll have to find some other equally lumbering, pestilential organization with deep pockets who we can somehow turn against GMO as a whole, but whose physical proximity to Monsanto means they'll start with the biggest player in the biz.

Say, is there anything in Leviticus (maybe nestled in near the bits about not wearing cotton/polyester blends) about impure food? Because I just had an idea.
posted by Mayor West at 11:36 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm not seeing the outrage here. Or, at least, this looks like a more nuanced situation than is being represented.

Assuming we want to subsidise agricultural R&D, and we're not going to do this through direct government spending (which I would prefer) then doing it through patent law is plausible.

Since we're talking about seeds, then we have to let the patent holder enforce any breach, whether allegedly wilful or not.

And I don't want to cast aspersions, but anyone who can't manage a modern industrial farm is no wheat-chomping rube. If farmers can buy seed cheaply from a common supply, and know perfectly well it'll have the enhanced features of the patented sort, then they'll do it. So if - IF, again, based on the assumptions above about subsidising agricultural R&D - you want to support the patent system, you have to allow prosecution of exactly these kind of "accidental" misuses.
posted by alasdair at 11:38 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


just google any combination of Monsanto Drops Roundup Bombs.

That gets me two stories sourced to Percy Schmeiser and a bunch of "drop the money bomb on Monsanto" posts. This is the kind of thing that I would expect to generate a substantial number of lawsuits.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:38 AM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Say, is there anything in Leviticus (maybe nestled in near the bits about not wearing cotton/polyester blends) about impure food? Because I just had an idea.

There's, um, a TON about food in and around there. But if your thought is to use Christianity to oppose GMOs, the best way to do it would probably be to turn GMO foods into a gay icon.

(I speak, of course, as a Christian who totally supports gay rights and totally opposes GMOs).
posted by gauche at 11:39 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not seeing the outrage here.

What exactly are you not seeing the outrage at:

1. Outrage over removing the farmer's ability to grow next year's crop from this year's seed? Some thing that goes back farther than recorded history.

2. Outrage over the further commoditization of our food supply?

3. Outrage over the really, really bad idea of tampering with the genetic makeup of plants that are promiscuous cross-pollinators?

4. Outrage over the ever increasing corporate power of a company as devoid of moral or ethical sight as Monsanto?

Need I go on? None of these bother you?
posted by Cosine at 11:43 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


This issue isn't seeds blowing across fields, it's pollen. Right? So could a non-Roundup Ready farmer sue a neighboring farm for contaminating his non-RR crop? Or could a non-RR farmer sue a neighboring RR farm for breeding weeds that are resistant to herbicide, which then invade and create a weed problem for the non-RR farm?
posted by mullingitover at 11:44 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would it take for some enterprising young farmer to come along and say, 'Fuck you, Monsanto, I'm going to start a seed company that is the antithesis of you'?? What premium would other farmers pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing these seeds are mine to do with what I and my land please without the fear of endless litigation from the evil that is Monsanto?

I'm just an outside observer but as I understand it, Monsanto has hunted peace of mind to extinction. You don't have to buy Monsanto seed for them to threaten you with a lawsuit, as your fields could be pollinated by their IP without your knowledge or intent. If sued, regardless of the merit or outcome of the case, the legal costs are ruinous for farmers and a pittance for Monsanto, and they use this threat like a cudgel. The act of seed-saving requires some specialized machinery, typically owned and operated not by the farmer but by someone would travel around and serve a number of farms. Monsanto has hounded them with lawsuits, too, and enforced vicious blacklists so that anyone who does business with them is cut off from buying Monsanto seed; this effectively makes their business model untenable.

So, they've gone out of their way to make farming independently of Monsanto close to impossible. It's fucking evil, all of it, and it pisses me off.
posted by kprincehouse at 11:46 AM on October 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


just google any combination of Monsanto Drops Roundup Bombs.

That gets me two stories sourced to Percy Schmeiser and a bunch of "drop the money bomb on Monsanto" posts. This is the kind of thing that I would expect to generate a substantial number of lawsuits.


And? I said Percy was a liar about not using Monsanto seed, he was correct (and Monsanto never challenged) that the way they proved it was by dropping Roundup bombs.

My family's farm is a couple hours from Percy's, I don't know him but I do know that it is not uncommon coffee-talk at all to hear farmers compare sightings of "Monsanto crop circles", the farmers I know aren't particularily bothered by it, likely because they are all growers of Roundup Ready Canola to begin with and also aren't really the type to take on the Monsanto's of the world.
posted by Cosine at 11:47 AM on October 11, 2012


This issue isn't seeds blowing across fields, it's pollen. Right? So could a non-Roundup Ready farmer sue a neighboring farm for contaminating his non-RR crop? Or could a non-RR farmer sue a neighboring RR farm for breeding weeds that are resistant to herbicide, which then invade and create a weed problem for the non-RR farm?

It's both, in the case of Percy he was saying it was Monsanto seed that blew off a truck driving by. I don't know of any cases challenging the pollen factor, plenty of science talk though about how that pollen then introduces alien DNA into a host of other plants, some of which has created plants toxic to Monarch butterflies.
posted by Cosine at 11:49 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


What premium would other farmers pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing these seeds are mine to do with what I and my land please without the fear of endless litigation from the evil that is Monsanto?

They would not pay any premium, and in reality pay a premium for Monsanto's seeds over cheaper, unpatented seeds from other companies. At least for the prime crop of the season, which is where the majority of their profit (and risk) lies.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:53 AM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


It can't be pollen, can it? Monsato's seed is non-viable, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:54 AM on October 11, 2012


Monsato's seed is non-viable, no?

Where I come from a guy could get beat up for saying that.
posted by The Bellman at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure what Monsanto expected people to do with the seeds farmers were allowed to sell to the grain elevators. Am I missing something?

The seeds in question are things like wheat and corn and soy and canola. Seeds that are commodities and foods in their own right. There is a lot to be done with corn and soy and wheat seeds, besides saving them and planting them next season.
posted by fancyoats at 11:57 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It can't be pollen, can it? Monsato's seed is non-viable, no?

AFAIK it is perfectly viable.

On edit I misread your post. Yes, the product of the Monsanto Roundup Ready Canola is supposed to be sterile. The pollen not so much, of course.
posted by Cosine at 12:00 PM on October 11, 2012


I'm not sure what Monsanto expected people to do with the seeds farmers were allowed to sell to the grain elevators. Am I missing something?

The seeds in question are things like wheat and corn and soy and canola. Seeds that are commodities and foods in their own right. There is a lot to be done with corn and soy and wheat seeds, besides saving them and planting them next season.


Yes, and in the case of Canola the seed IS the product. Canola oil is just the pressed seeds.
posted by Cosine at 12:00 PM on October 11, 2012


jesus fucking christ. why don't we just all line up at monsanto headquarters' bread line every morning for our black crust and thin borscht and be done with it.

So, you've been reading Paolo Bacigalupi's books, too?
posted by verb at 12:02 PM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think we should allow patents on living organisms or their genetic makeup. Period. Private industry should be a means to an end (improvement of humanity), not the end itself. I'm sure Monsanto can find some other way to make money, or just go away if we don't need it. I would be much happier if crop research was a function of local, state, and federal government or universities. Drug research too, for that matter. There are plenty of smart people who would do the research for intellectual or humanitarian reasons as long as they had health insurance and a reasonable wage. No need to profit off it.

Wow, I'm crazy, aren't I? When did that happen?
posted by freecellwizard at 12:14 PM on October 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Canola = Canadian Oil, Low Acid.

Used to be rapeseed.

Puritanical Marketing 101.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canola = Canadian Oil, Low Acid.

Used to be rapeseed.

Puritanical Marketing 101.


Yup, "Tisdale - The Land of Canola and Honey" just doesn't have quite the same ring as "Tisdale - The Land of Rape and Honey"
posted by Cosine at 12:18 PM on October 11, 2012


It's still rapeseed in much of the world, though I do prefer canola as a name. I used to find driving down the motorway past endless fields of rape to be oddly disquieting; my brain would always get trapped somewhere between Sabine and Bosnia. It is very beautiful, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2012


Software patents are a bad idea, but genetic patents are pure evil.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my dad used to always plant one side of the road with rape and the other with flax, lovely.
posted by Cosine at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


There have been, and Monsanto is horrible, but the most well known case of "blown-in seed", that of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser was actually pretty clearly a lie by Schmeiser once he was caught. His "blown-in seed" was amazingly blown into perfect row after row after row of Monsanto product.

Yeah, that story of the accidentally blow-in lawsuit is right up there with the McDonald's coffee burn woman, complete myth.

Percy thought he could get around the agreement by claiming property rights over patent rights by intentionally cultivating rogue growth. Monstanto even offered to clean up his property for free to get rid of the blow-over. In the end the lawsuit damages assessed against Percy was $660 and lead to the Canadian Supreme Court defining 'use' in the case of patented technologies.

This case confuses the crap out of me. Most of these lawsuits are against seed polishers who try to sell Monsanto seeds surreptitiously without the licensing agreement. Most of the time Monsanto is tipped off by other farmers who do pay the fee getting pissed over unfair costs. I have to imagine the seed sold to farmer was explicit that this was Monsanto seeds, which would require an agreement on licensing. And for the record, then number of lawsuits is only a couple hundreds, most farmers know the rule.

So either the grain elevator didn't know there was contamination (which is suspect), didn't tell the farmer it was Monsanto seeds (which is liable), or the farmer played ignorant to the seed source and hoped Monsanto wouldn't notice/enforce the agreement (which is willfully dumb) to make a second/late harvest more profitable.

The article didn't state what the percentage of contamination was. 5%? 25% 98%? Did Monstanto offer to clean up the mess as they have in the past? Did they offer in good faith to retroactively license the crop? Did the farmer treat this second crop with RoundUp knowing full well its benefits and demonstrate he knew the seed was contaminated?
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:39 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


None of the above. The farmer told Monsanto what he was doing, in the belief that he was protected by the doctrine of first-sale patent exhaustion.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:44 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that story of the accidentally blow-in lawsuit is right up there with the McDonald's coffee burn woman, complete myth

Not sure if I am missing the joke here but you know the McDonald's case was not myth at all right?
posted by Cosine at 12:44 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that she sued McDonald's for serving coffee above room temperature is a myth.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:46 PM on October 11, 2012


basically the closest thing I've got to a hopeful future that I can picture is to hope that all of this stuff is prologue to a Paolo Bacigalupi novel, instead of a Peter Watts one. Everything William Gibson's ever written seems like pure naivety at this point. and if that's not a clear sign of how fucked we are...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:52 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's better to say that Canola is a variety of rape. It's been bred to be much less bitter and much lower in a particular fatty acid that is dangerous to many animals (but hasn't been proven harmful to humans). There's a bit of marketing there, sure, but substance as well. If you want to understand the difference yourself, compare the taste of mustard seed oil to that of canola.
posted by bonehead at 12:54 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


So if - IF, again, based on the assumptions above about subsidising agricultural R&D - you want to support the patent system, you have to allow prosecution of exactly these kind of "accidental" misuses.

"Agricultural R&D" and "the patent system" are not interchangeable terms or concepts. Human agricultural research and development got along just fine for tens of thousands of years and produced nearly every single cultivar of plant and breed of animal that is consumed for food and all other purposes in the entire world without patents on living organisms.
posted by XMLicious at 12:54 PM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Monsanto's headquarters is right outside of St. Louis...next door to Sara Lee. It's an American marriage of industries.

I've never noticed Sara Lee there before, but every time I drive by Monsanto on Lindbergh I blow raspberries at them.

Organic raspberries.
posted by Foosnark at 12:58 PM on October 11, 2012


I need to know if that Roundup water balloon thing is real or rural legend or I won't be able to sleep.

I've gotten really into reading the work of this lady Carol Deppe recently: Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, for one.

Deppe is a mildly-crotchety (in an awesome way) geneticist-turned-plant-breeder. The book above is all about the nitty-gritty of how to breed yourself purple corn or yellow pole peas resistant to disease X or whatever. It is totally fascinating. It is also pretty alarming, because reading the book, I really got a sense of how much the knowledge of how to do this - even at a pretty basic level, just selecting the best specimens of an inbreeding species and saving the seed for next year - has been lost. Or at least concentrated in the hands of a very small number of professional plant breeders, which is not to say that those people are all shills for Monsanto. But there's no money in breeding, say, a new variety of corn that's uniquely adapted to a certain part of Montana. Or a type of potato resistant to a disease common in your area.

The money is all in Number Two Field Corn. Or bush-type green beans with tough skins for machine harvesting. So that's where all the professional development happens. Which means that all across the land, farmers are growing crops that are very tightly related to each other.

And I guess I have just become some kind of crazy alarmist over the past couple of years, but it's worrying to think about how our food security rests on such shaky underpinnings. It's not even the evil of Big Seed (although it's that, too) it's that if some new virus pops up that hits Number Two Field Corn especially hard, we're all totally fucked, because nobody grows or even knows how to grow anything else on a sufficiently large scale.

Let's start an Internet Nerd Evidence-Based Agricultural Intentional Community. Who's in?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


Patenting nature is as ridiculous - and hubris-ridden - as making it illegal.

We're pushing our luck with this planet, and if there is one thing that is painfully obvious, she won't take it lying down. We only have this one place, we fuck it up, and it's going to get very uncomfortable for our species.
posted by dbiedny at 1:31 PM on October 11, 2012


Let's start an Internet Nerd Evidence-Based Agricultural Intentional Community.

Done, kind of.
posted by gauche at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the long run, I see GMO being banned globally not for health reasons (which are fairly nonsensical) but because the market dominance is too toxic to bear. This is messy because I'm not sure we can feed 7B+ people without it.
posted by effugas at 1:34 PM on October 11, 2012


You want to really reduce the power Monsanto and others of it's ilk has over the US, do the following:

Get up off your asses and vote; after you have voted, hold those that you voted for to account, and if they dont do as you want, fire them.

Those greedy bastards will keep taking money (accepting campaign donations is just the same as taking a bribe but with a few more pages of paperwork) from vampires like Monsanto until someone stops them, and the only legal way to do that is to vote them out of office.

The alternative way is to bribe your own set of elected officials, but trust me, you dont have enough money.
posted by photodegas at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uh, Cosine, you really need to not spread myths. If Monsanto was dropping bombs of glyphosate on people's fields they would be sued into oblivion. That's so completely unbelievable it needs more than your say-so and a couple google search results. Surely someone has filed a lawsuit (even if they lost) which you could link to directly.

Also, as noted RR soy is viable and breeds true to the second generation. It's only hybrids that have issues and even then the problem isn't that the second gen seed won't grow, it's that the seed won't have the same yield and other characteristics as the parent. It's called hybrid vigor and has been used for decades (well before transgenic crops). No "terminator" seeds have ever been brought to market. AFAIK, there's also no consistent evidence that pollen from any commonly planted transgenic crop is actually harmful to insects.

I realize the patent system is f-ed up and Monsanto sometimes does pretty unsavory things, but it's not necessary to make crap up to demonize them or transgenic crops. Also note the patent system everyone abhors so much is also what protects new fruit breeders like Zaiger from losing his hard work to larger firms. Transgenics don't actually need to be patent-encumbered (e.g. the Golden Rice project has received free patent licenses) or monopoly driven. But a lot of the reason Monsanto has so much influence is it is really hard for non-profits and universities to bring crops to market. Ringspot Virus resistant papaya for example is one of the few university-origin transgenic crops and that was pretty hard to get passed (but thankfully that happened in the early 90s before the topic got politicized so badly).
posted by R343L at 1:38 PM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not surprised. Hasn't Monsanto successfully sued farmers in the past in cases where roundup seed blew onto their land from adjacent fields?

When I worked as a Field Inspector for a different seed company, we would have to verify the geographic data that was collected earlier in the year. Part of this process was measuring the distances between our field and the surrounding corn fields. Usually 320ft was enough to stop major contamination (with about 10 male rows on the side to act as a buffer). Sweet corn patches would have to be at least 1024ft away. Never really a problem while I was there. Policy was to politely ask them to detassel the patch if would prove to be a problem. (If they refused, we would have to go in ninja style. I was lucky enough not to go under the cover of night.)

If seed landed in the field from the previous year, usually it would have been hoed out by us or migrants after the crop had grown enough for there to be visible differences. Regular farmers don't tend to do this due to a lack of manpower, and most folks don't care.

Monsanto has horrible business practices and even uses other companies to cover up their own flaws. They used Dow Agroscience's corn borer trait to cover up their own faulty one in the SmartStax venture. But that's more of a derail, so...

Yeah, just thought I would give a little insight to that kind of stuff.
posted by Melee Loaf at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


thehmsbeagle: It is totally fascinating. It is also pretty alarming, because reading the book, I really got a sense of how much the knowledge of how to do this - even at a pretty basic level, just selecting the best specimens of an inbreeding species and saving the seed for next year - has been lost.

[…]

Let's start an Internet Nerd Evidence-Based Agricultural Intentional Community. Who's in?
I've been thinking about this lately. It seems like there are a great many things that people commonly knew how to do 100 years ago that are all but lost now.

If you're looking for more information about seed saving and plant breeding, I'd start with Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon is also very good, but it's more of a general gardening book. While Solomon does address the subject, he doesn't concentrate on seed saving techniques the way Ashworth does.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:43 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Intellectual/property rights in the realm of FOODCROPS is just fucking insane. Full stop.

Intellectual/property rights in the realm of FOODCORPS is just fucking insane. Full stop.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:53 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cosine: "In order to test whether or not you are using their herbicide resistant seed they fly over your land and drop water balloons full of their herbicide, then a week later they fly over again."

If you ever witness that in the US, call the FAA. Bombing is flatly illegal and the pilot can and likely will have their license revoked.
posted by wierdo at 1:55 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


R343L: Here

I don't know whether it's true or not but the butterfly/GMO connection has been pretty widely covered for a while now.
posted by Cosine at 2:09 PM on October 11, 2012


thehmsbeagle: "I need to know if that Roundup water balloon thing is real or rural legend or I won't be able to sleep.

I've gotten really into reading the work of this lady Carol Deppe recently: Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, for one.
"

Whoa. I have been kicking around an AskMe about this for a while. I hadn't gotten around to doing my pre-submission homework though. thanks!
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2012


Cosine: That's not anything to do with pollen though which was what was claimed. Moreover, I've read papers on that problem and it looks to be a matter of habitat loss due to better weed control. Considering we have non-transgenic herbicide-resistant crops, the problem isn't the technology that created the crop that encourages overuse of herbicide, but how we balance weed control with other values (like encouraging habitats for non-farm organisms).
posted by R343L at 2:22 PM on October 11, 2012


I wonder what Romney thinks of Monsanto.
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:30 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Corporations are people plants, my friend.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:48 PM on October 11, 2012


I wonder what Romney thinks of Monsanto.

I suppose it depends on whether his species enjoys the flavour of Roundup.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:49 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whenever I hear these stories, I get so frustrated. Isn't there a better way to solve this?

- Isn't the person at fault here the person who put their seeds in the local grain elevator? Shouldn't the burden be on Monsanto to find who that person was?

- Could you manipulate the genes in such a way that every farmer gets a unique seed? That way you can determine if that particular farmer lawfully purchased their product?

- Could you alter the seeds at the grain elevator or Monsanto seeds in such a way that they are no longer the same? For (crazy) example, could you zap them all with a giant microwave beam so that the genetic material is slightly altered and no longer Monsanto's?

- Could you patent your own seeds and then throw them onto Monsanto's property and sue them?

- Could you work at a Starbucks near Monsanto, and secretly sell them a poppy-seed muffin with your own patented poppy seeds and then sue them when the seeds have made their way to the local watershed and then onto some sort of arable land?

- Could you paint a winky-eye smiley face on each seed or a middle finger so that it is now an artistic work and copyrighted?

- Could you plant your seeds in a really hilarious way, like really wonky rows or with each seed upside down, so that it could be considered a work of parody and not violating their patent?
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The key text is
That same year, Bowman applied glyphosate-based herbicide to the fields in which he had planted the com- modity seeds to control weeds and to determine whether the plants would exhibit glyphosate resistance. He con- firmed that many of the plants were, indeed, resistant. In each subsequent year, from 2000 through 2007, Bowman treated his second-crop with glyphosate-based herbicide

The farmer bought the commodity grain, but then used the Roundup Ready weed control techniques on it. This was his infraction. If he wanted to use some other weed control technique he would have been in the clear. Monsanto's patent isn't just the seed it is the seed+roundup based weed killer used in combination. They invented the technique, created the plants and the chemical and the process. They paid the costs of marketing the idea to farmers and it inproved yeilds and lowered costs. The resulting no-till farming practices have aided in soil conservation and reduced fertilizer usage.
posted by humanfont at 3:16 PM on October 11, 2012


They invented the technique, created the plants

Except for, y'know, the 99.99% (or whatever) of the genome that developed naturally or was bred by the rest of humankind over thousands of years.
posted by XMLicious at 3:31 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Today's SMBC is relevant
posted by jeffburdges at 4:08 PM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


For thousands of years farmers didn't spray their fields with roundup/glyphosate after the seedlings came up to kill off the weeds. If Bowman wanted to run his farm using the traditional means he is free to do that with the seeds he bought. If he wants to do things the new fangled Monsanto way, then he can pay Monsanto for their invention. Of course since many weeds have become tolerant of roundup he may need to move to a new technique soon anyway.
posted by humanfont at 4:29 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


thehmsbeagle: "It is totally fascinating. It is also pretty alarming, because reading the book, I really got a sense of how much the knowledge of how to do this - even at a pretty basic level, just selecting the best specimens of an inbreeding species and saving the seed for next year - has been lost.

This is truer than you know: When a new highly virulent wheat rust race developed in Uganda (UG-99), the USDA needed to send a wheat breeder to Africa to teach people how to breed resistant wheat. And do you know what? The art of breeding is no longer being taught. So the USDA had to find one of Norman Bourlaug's long-retired colleagues and send HIM to Africa.

Current trends in academia make it hard fr plant breeders to get grants or publish enough to survive.
posted by acrasis at 4:33 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


you know the McDonald's case was not myth at all right?

I'm referring to the myth that a 'dumb woman spilled some coffee on her lap, had the gall to sue and won a multimillion dollar lawsuit.' The kind you read in those stupid 'Tort Law is Out of Control' email chains your Fox News loving grandma sends. Not that actual case, which had reasonable claims and settlements.

The Liebeck v. Monsanto case is the Left's version of that lawsuit hysteria.

The farmer told Monsanto what he was doing, in the belief that he was protected by the doctrine of first-sale patent exhaustion.


Then some farmer's association (read: giant corporate agricultural outfit) must have put him up to this as a test case to break the patent's effectiveness because on the face of it that's foolish. The man has been using Monsanto's soy seeds for years, why he would think they weren't going to enforce their patent is baffling.

The part that really irks me in this discussion is the 'farmers' who buy this stuff are corporate agri-business outfits growing soy and corn mostly for non-eating purposes, and they like the Monsanto stuff because its RoundUp-ready. They get to dump enormous amounts of poison on their crops, far more than Monsanto recommends. These folks are hard to sympathize with as they are on the complete opposite spectrum of what most people consider farmers, Shepard of the Earth.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:41 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is truer than you know: When a new highly virulent wheat rust race developed in Uganda (UG-99), the USDA needed to send a wheat breeder to Africa to teach people how to breed resistant wheat. And do you know what? The art of breeding is no longer being taught. So the USDA had to find one of Norman Bourlaug's long-retired colleagues and send HIM to Africa.

Well, that is genuinely terrifying.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:44 PM on October 11, 2012


If Bowman wanted to run his farm using the traditional means he is free to do that with the seeds he bought.

The boon of RoundUp/glyphosate meant that the traditional method, tilling of the soil, soil was no longer required. The biggest benefit of no-till meant the farmers were losing their precious topsoil.

Of course since many weeds have become tolerant of roundup he may need to move to a new technique soon anyway.

And then the Devil came due.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:45 PM on October 11, 2012


Back in 1995 a friend gave me an anti-GMO screed that had been passed on to him from his uncle, and who knows where the uncle obtained it, how many hands it had passed through, or where it originated.

It contained disturbing predictions of greedy multinational agro-conglomerates controlling the very kernels of life itself, and wielding its megalopoly power to subjugate our agricultural traditions, our consumer choices, our diets and finally our health, all in the pursuit of profit.

But in the back of my mind I kind of doubted its veracity because it was literally the only exposure to any discussion of the industry practice that I had encountered up to that time and for many years after. I think a part of me hoped that the stark pages had been churned out of the word processor of a delusional, paranoid crank.

Now, here we are.

I should get in touch and find out what his uncle is afraid of nowadays, to see what we should maybe be concerned about 15-20 years from now.
posted by univac at 5:01 PM on October 11, 2012


If Bowman wanted to run his farm using the traditional means he is free to do that with the seeds he bought. If he wants to do things the new fangled Monsanto way, then he can pay Monsanto for their invention.

If Monsanto wanted to create plants that they "own" and have universal control over those plants wherever they grow if they're farmed in a particular way, they should synthesize the genome from scratch instead of tacking some tiny sequence into a genome they didn't create. It's even less of a creative act than the publisher who wants to own Shakespeare because he typeset it.

If Monsanto wants to patent the process of altering an existing genome to make it resistant to a pesticide, that might be reasonable, but for them to gain ownership of the genomes they make miniscule changes to is absurd.
posted by XMLicious at 5:09 PM on October 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Intellectual/property rights in the realm of FOODCROPS is just fucking insane. Full stop.

You may be missing the point. Intellectual/property rights in the realm of ______ is just insane. Full stop.

Intellectual property rights cause more harm than good.
posted by JackFlash at 5:22 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


California is about to start giving Monsanto some headaches come November.
posted by mullingitover at 5:39 PM on October 11, 2012


I wonder what Romney thinks of Monsanto.

How Mitt Romney Helped Monsanto Take Over the World
posted by homunculus at 5:42 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


well clearly the way to make sure you're not using any monsanto product is to engineer a virus which specifically attacks and destroys roundup-ready plants. Release it on your land and you're good to go. Should the virus spread to other farms... well, I guess it's not your problem, right?

I'm a little leary of this, seeing as it's almost word for word the reason for the gnarly,dystopian setting of The Windup Girl.
posted by kaiseki at 6:31 PM on October 11, 2012


California is about to start giving Monsanto some headaches come November.

Indeed:
Proposition 37, the GMO labeling bill that’s on the ballot in California, is polling 2-to-1 in favor of passing, the LA Times is now reporting. 61% of registered voters currently support GMO labeling, and only 25% oppose it.
Could this be a new floor for the crazification factor? Apparently only 25% think that labeling food to enable consumer choice is a poor idea, which is down from 27% voting for Alan Keyes.
posted by weston at 7:25 PM on October 11, 2012


Have you read the actual law? Because it's got some pretty ridiculous exceptions. Restaurant food, deli food, alcohol, cheese, etc are all explicitly exempt. It also has a somewhat unrelated provision related to the use of the word "natural" that a state court has agreed might be interpreted (once it passed) to apply to any kind of processed food (transgenic or not). It's not certain, but the law might actually mean that olive oil couldn't be labeled "natural". When you add in the fact that many proponents of the law claim that we need a right to know because GMOs are linked with autism, cancer, allergies etc with no evidence whatsoever that any of that is true I think it's refreshing that people are starting to not be supportive of the law.

Oh, who am I kidding. The anti forces have been airing lots of ads and are just managing to spread their ideas with more repetitions. In general, if people see a claim often enough they'll believe it. Goes for absurd claims about massive increases in food costs as it does for claims that somehow transgenic foods are causing autism.
posted by R343L at 10:25 PM on October 11, 2012


up, "Tisdale - The Land of Canola and Honey" just doesn't have quite the same ring as "Tisdale - The Land of Rape and Honey"
posted by Cosine at 3:18 PM on October 11 [+] [!]


True story.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:06 PM on October 11, 2012


I wonder what Romney thinks of Monsanto.

Romney's thoughts are like the weather in Chicago.

If you don't like his answer wait five minutes and ask again. He'll give you another.
posted by notyou at 7:35 AM on October 12, 2012


Last I saw, lots of seed companies were doing just fine. There are packets of seeds for sale at most home and garden shops. Nothing stops people from keeping and replanting the non-hybrid varieties (many hybrids aren't very fertile, after all, and quite often this is a desired trait for seed sellers) but you don't see Burpee and the like suing the piss out of home gardeners.

Monsanto can go to hell. We have a frickin' doomsday vault storing seeds for our most important food crops in case of a global catastrophe, and they would quite likely prefer to watch everyone starve instead of allowing us to use them if it turned out one of those seeds was GMO.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:20 AM on October 12, 2012


Every company is going to end up saying their products have GMO. Even those that don't will be hit with nusicance suits that will just make them out a label on it, just to avoid litigation. Just like every building in California has warning signs that there might be cancer causing compounds around, or the requirement that every UK website tell you that they are using cookies.
posted by humanfont at 4:28 PM on October 12, 2012


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