Genetically Modified Plants and Sterile Seeds
The contamination of natural self propagating plants and seed from genetically modified plants is one of scariest issues associated with industrial agriculture.
Agribusinesses intent on cornering the seed market are using tactics which could destroy the self germinating seeds of our natural food crops through cross pollination with sterile genetically modified seeds and plants.
Destroying self propagating crop seeds will ensure that all farmers have to buy new seed each year from these businesses instead of being able to save natural self propagating seeds capable of re-germination in the next planting cycle.
One of the companies intent on cornering the crop seed market is Monsanto Corporation.
In 2007, Monsanto purchased the world's largest cotton seed company, the Delta & Pine Land Company for $1.5 billion dollars. Delta & Pine has been involved with a seed technology nicknamed "Terminator".
This "Terminator" technology produces genetically modified plants that have sterile seeds, which do not flower or grow fruit after the initial planting, requiring customers to purchase new seed from Monsanto for every planting in which they use Monsanto seed varieties.
And to ensure they are the only seed variety source, Monsanto is methodically buying up other large seed companies. In 2008, Monsanto bought the Dutch seed company De Ruiter Seeds for around 855 million dollars.
The concerns about these acquisitions and genetically modified plants was heralded by an 1988 article published in the journal of the Community Nutrition Institute.
In the article, titled American Agriculture: Wreaking Biological Havoc" Rodney Leonard wrote:
"In the last several months, a radical transformation of agricultural biotechnology has largely been completed, with two giant corporations in the chemical and drug sectors emerging to dominate an industry of which few Americans are aware. One is American Home Products, Inc. (AHP), and the other is DuPont Co. AHP is a drug company and DuPont is a chemical company.
The deal between Monsanto and AHP never materialized, but Monsanto did buy Delta, as mentioned. Environmental groups and farming associations are understandably alarmed, because these sterile seeds and the genetically modified plants from which they come increase farmers' dependency on seed suppliers like Monsanto.
The major concern is that the "Terminator" sterile seed effect will spread to native vegetation through natural pollination, and result in the sterilization of all natural plants.
In 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize terminator technology, but given Monsanto’s track record, I fully expect to read about the Terminator effects in the near future.
Monsanto as Bully
In an article on the Institute of Science in Society website, we learn just what kind of people are running the Monsanto company, and what they plan for the future of genetically modified plants and seeds.
In 1998, two years after the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Canada, a farmer named Percy Schmeiser received a lawsuit notice from Monsanto which alleged that Mr. Schmeiser was growing Roundup Ready canola without a license from Monsanto and that this was a patent infringement.
Monsanto had a patent on a gene to make GM canola resistant to the glyphosate herbicide in its formulation Roundup. This came as a complete surprise to the Schmeisers who immediately realised that all their research and development on canola over the past fifty years had somehow been contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified plants and seed.
The Schmeisers fought Monsanto in court, and lost the first two cases. The Court ruled after a two-and-half-week trial that it was the first patent infringement case on a higher life form in the world. The Judge’s ruling and Percy Schmeiser’s name became famous overnight:
The Schmeisers tracked down the source of the contamination. It was their neighbour who had planted GM crops in 1996 with no fence or buffer between them.
Nevertheless, the Schmeisers’ seeds and plants reverted to Monsanto, and they were not allowed to use their own seeds and plants again, nor keep any profit from their canola crop in 1998.
Through no fault of their own, the Schmeisers were now in jeopardy of losing everything they owned to Monsanto.
Mr. Schmeiser appealed the case to the Supreme Court and was heard. The Appeal was good news for the Schmeisers, but in the meantime Monsanto had brought another lawsuit against them for $1 million in legal costs, fines and punitive damages.
Monsanto said that the Schmeisers were recalcitrant and that they wanted a million dollars from them. For good measure, Monsanto brought a third lawsuit against the Schmeisers to seize their farmland, farm equipment and house, in an effort to stop them mortgaging their assets to pay their legal bill.
Percy Schmeiser effectively raised several important questions at the Supreme Court Appeal:
On the important issue of "Who owns life?" the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that "Monsanto’s patent on a gene is valid and wherever that gene arrives in any higher life form they own or control that higher life form."
That was considered to be a major victory for Monsanto at the time, but is a decision that has come home to roost in the form of corporate liability for GMOs.
Mr. Schmeiser explained that if a corporation own and control a higher life form and they put it into the environment where everyone knows it cannot be controlled or contained and co-existence is impossible then the corporation should be liable for the damages done to an organic farmer or a conventional farmer, as well as for the negative impacts on biodiversity.
Despite strong recommendations by the Supreme Court for the Parliament of Canada to bring in new laws and regulations on patents on life and the rights of farmers to use their seed from year to year these issues have yet to be addressed to date.
And here's some really troubling information. On top of bullying the Schmeiser in court, Monsanto employees also physically threatened them. During the legal fight, Mr. Schmeiser reported that
"They (Monsanto) tried everything to break us down mentally and financially." His main fear was the harm that they would do to his wife and family. "Monsanto employees would sit in the road in their vehicles watching us all day long when we were working in our field" he said. They would sit in the driveway for hours at a time watching Louise Schmeiser when she was working in the garden and then phone her and say "You better watch it; we’re going to get you."
In the US, Monsanto has filed lawsuits against at least ninety farmers.
For more information on this case see this page.
More Info about Genetically Modified Plants and Seeds
More Info on GMOs in our Food Supply