The contamination of natural self-propagating plants and seed from genetically modified plants is one of the scariest issues associated with industrial agriculture.
Agribusinesses intent on cornering the seed market are using tactics that 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 seeds 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 cottonseed 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 seeds 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 were heralded by a 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.
Until this week, when AHP merged with Monsanto Corp. in a $33 billion combined, DuPont and Monsanto had both spent billions of dollars to acquire seed companies, biotechnology research firms, and food processing and distribution companies.
Each has spent more than $6 billion apiece in the past three years on acquisitions, and both giants have added billions to spend. DuPont will shed Conoco Oil, a $30 billion subsidiary, to create a massive acquisitions and research investment fund.
Other companies are scrambling to catch up, but Monsanto’s earlier start has given AHP a market lead in genetically modified seeds for corn, cotton, and soybeans.
AHP-Monsanto will control an estimated 80 percent of the U.S. cotton seed market if regulators approve the acquisition of Delta & Pine Land Co., the largest cottonseed supplier.
Between the two companies, AHP-Monsanto and DuPont will have acquired control of the dominant share of the U.S. seed market for commercial grain and oilseed crops, including half of the market for soybeans and corn.
The rivalry is intense, for good reason. Control of seed production, with the monopoly pricing power from control of patents on genetic changes, allows the biotechnology corporation to control farmers and industrial farming production.
Enhanced by such gifts as the terminator gene from the Department of Agriculture USDA) that causes seeds to become sterile after one season, AHP-Monsanto and DuPont will be able to dictate seed prices, growing practices, marketing and other terms of management. Growers cannot object. Seeds for next year’s crops must be purchased, and alternative uses for croplands are few.”
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 realized 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 Schmeiser 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:
- It does not matter how a farmer, a forester, or a gardener’s seed or plants become contaminated with GMOs; whether through cross-pollination, pollen blowing in the wind, by bees, direct seed movement or seed transportation, the growers no longer own their seeds or plants under patent law, they become Monsanto’s property.
- The rate of GM contamination does not matter; whether it’s 1 percent, 2 percent, 10 percent, or more, the seeds and plants still belong to Monsanto.
- It’s immaterial how the GM contamination occurs, or where it comes from.
The Schmeisers tracked down the source of the contamination. It was their neighbor who had planted GM crops in 1996 with no fence or buffer between them.
Nevertheless, the Schmeiser’s’ 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 Schmeiser’s 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 Schmeiser’s, 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:
- Can living organisms, seeds, plants, genes, and human organs be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property?
- Can genetically modified traits invade and become noxious weeds that then become resistant to weed killers and become superweeds? (The answer was obviously yes, as these are now all over Western Canada and almost the rest of Canada, see below.)
- Can the farmers’ rights to grow conventional or organic crops be protected, especially organic crops?
- Can farmers keep their ancient right to save their own seeds and develop them further if they so desire?
- Who owns life? Has anyone, either an individual or a corporation, the right to put a patent on a higher life form?
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.”
Monsanto would then phone their neighbors and say if you support Percy and Louise Schmeiser we’re going to come after you and do the same to you as we’re doing to them. Monsanto offered $20,000 worth of chemicals to the Schmeisers’ neighbors if they would say something negative about them in Court.
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
- Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit
- Who Owns Life? Not Monsanto!
- The Terminator Technology: a press release from the Organic Consumers Union
- ETC Group article on protests against Terminator Technology
- Millions Against Monsanto campaign from the Organic Consumers Union