Monsanto is best-known for its controversial use of genetically-modified organisms, and less well-known for being involved in the story of the defoliant Agent Orange (the company's long and involved story is well told in the book and film "The World…
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The US Supreme Court Wednesday refused to hear an appeal seeking to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers who inadvertently grew crops contaminated by its genetically engineered seed.
It was the second time the top US court has sided with the American agro-giant in its running fight with farmers over seed patent rights, after a ruling in its favor in a May 2013 case involving an Indiana farmer.
In the latest case, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association had asked that Monsanto agree not to sue farmers if they inadvertently grew plants containing traits of patented genetically engineered seed.
In rejecting the suit without comment, the Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court ruling that the group's challenge was unwarranted because Monsanto had already given binding assurances it would not sue when only trace amounts of its genetically modified seed were involved.
Monsanto had argued that to grant the organic growers' request would allow farmers' to intentionally violate its patents.
The company has filed more than 100 law suits in the United States against farmers it alleges planted its seeds without paying royalties.
PARIS (Reuters) - France's highest administrative court rejected on Thursday a government ban on growing Monsanto's MON810 genetically modified maize (corn).
In its ruling, the Conseil d'Etat said under European Union law such a measure could only be imposed in an emergency or if there was a serious health or environmental risk.
This marks the second time in two years that the State Council has overturned a government ban on growing MON810. France, which is the EU's largest grain producer and a vocal opponent of GMO crops, has argued the technology poses environmental risks.
The ruling was expected after a preliminary hearing earlier this month found there was no scientific justification for the ban. The government has said it remains opposed to the cultivation of Monsanto's GMO maize.
(Reporting by Sophie Louet and Gus Trompiz, editing by Michel Rose)
By Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - Monsanto Co. on Monday won another round in a legal battle with U.S. organic growers as an appeals court threw out the growers' efforts to stop the company from suing farmers if traces of its patented biotech genes are found in crops.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a previous ruling that found organic growers had no reason to try to block Monsanto from suing them as the company had pledged it would not take them to court if biotech crops accidentally mix in with organics.
Organic farmers and others have worried for years that they will be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement if their crops get contaminated with Monsanto biotech crops.
In its ruling Monday, the appellate court said the organic growers must rely on Monsanto assurances on the company's website that it will not sue them so long as the mix is very slight.
"Monsanto's binding representations remove any risk of suit against the appellants as users or sellers of trace amounts (less than one percent) of modified seed," the court stated in its ruling.
Monsanto officials applauded the ruling.
"The assertion that Monsanto would pursue patent infringement against farmers that have no interest in using the company's patented seed technology was hypothetical from the outset," the company said in a statement issued Monday.
Monsanto has developed a reputation for zealously defending patents on its genetically altered crops, which include patented "Roundup Ready" soybeans, corn and cotton, genetically altered to tolerate treatments of its Roundup weedkiller.
The crops are widely used in the United States and Latin America. It has proven difficult to keep the genetic alteration from contaminating non-biotech crops, as recently occurred in a wheat field in the U.S. state of Oregon.
The group of more than 50 organic farmers and seed dealers sued Monsanto in March 2011 seeking to prohibit Monsanto from suing them if their seed and crops become contaminated.
Monsanto officials specifically refused to sign a covenant stating it would not sue the growers, but the court said the website statement was sufficient and would be binding.
Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer with the Center for Food Safety, which joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the decision made no sense.
"It is a very bizarre ruling that relies on a paragraph on a website," he said. "It is a very real threat to American farmers. This is definitely appealable."
In its ruling Monday, the court noted that records indicate a large majority of conventional seed samples have become contaminated by Monsanto's Roundup resistance trait.
Monsanto filed 144 patent-infringement lawsuits against farmers between 1997 and April 2010, and won judgments against farmers it said made use of its seed without paying required royalties.
Many U.S. farmers have said their fields were inadvertently contaminated with Monsanto's biotech seeds without their knowledge. The issue has been a topic of concern for not only farmers, but also companies that clean and handle seed.
(Reporting By Carey Gillam; editing by Andrew Hay)
US agriculture giant Monsanto, in the spotlight over the discovery of unauthorized genetically modified wheat growing in Oregon, said Wednesday it has a new GM wheat strain under development.
The company is developing a new form of Roundup Ready wheat, resistant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and also focused on improving yield, Robb Fraley, the firm's chief technology officer, said in a conference call with reporters.
Claire Cajacob, head of Monsanto's wheat research, said the company was testing a genetically modified, or genetically engineered, spring wheat in North Dakota, adding that field tests started in 2011.
Monsanto stopped testing its original Roundup Ready wheat strain in 2005 amid market concerns about the acceptance of GM products.
But it pushed back into the field in 2009, resuming work on wheat with the purchase of WestBred, a biotech wheat developer.
Monsanto's original Roundup Ready GM wheat strain, though approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, was not authorized for commercial use at the time Monsanto ended the tests.
But the US Department of Agriculture announced a week ago that it was found growing in an Oregon field by a farmer.
That rattled export markets sensitive to genetically modified organisms, and Japan suspended imports of some US wheat, as did South Korean millers. In Europe meanwhile officials said they would check US imports for signs of the GM wheat.
Monsanto officials were unable to offer an explanation of how their original Roundup Ready wheat was growing in Oregon, but said they were cooperating fully with the USDA investigation of the incident.
To the best of their knowledge, the officials said, the original Roundup Ready wheat seeds were either destroyed at the end of the program in 2005 or stored in a USDA facility in Colorado.
The company said it was not ruling out the possibility that the GMO seed was accidentally or purposely mixed in the seed the farmer planted.
Asked whether Monsanto was considering the possibility of sabotage, Philip Miller, vice president of regulatory affairs, said: "That's certainly one of the options we're looking at."
The company that engineered an herbicide-resistant strain of wheat which was never cleared for commercial use is baffled as to how the genetically modified organism (GMO) came to be growing in an Oregon wheat field. According to New Scientist, Monsanto, which says it abandoned research on the wheat in 2004, claims it has no idea how the wheat got there, but that it is urgently trying to find out.
An Oregon farmer who found the wheat only realized that it was a genetically modified crop when he tried to clear the field where it was growing by using the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. To his amazement, the plants simply refused to die.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) fact sheet about the contamination said:
An Oregon farmer noticed some volunteers, or plants that had germinated and developed in a place where they were not intentionally planted, in his wheat field, were resistant to glyphosate and sent the samples to the OSU scientist. She received the samples on April 30, 2013, and conducted tests on the samples. Based on her preliminary tests, the samples she received tested positive for the glyphosate trait and the farmer was informed of the testing results.
In a press release on Friday, Monsanto claimed that as a company, it "remains committed to working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. wheat industry to get to the bottom of the reported detection of Roundup Ready wheat earlier this week in a single field in Oregon."
“We’re committed to being transparent about our investigation and sharing information as it is assembled,” said Claire Cajacob of Monsanto in the press release. “We’re prepared to provide any technical help that we can to get to the bottom of this.”
"Roundup Ready" wheat, which is immune to the effects of the wide-spectrum herbicide glyphosate -- marketed by Monsanto as Roundup -- was cleared for human consumption by the FDA in 2004, but Monsanto stopped growing it the same year, claiming at the time that a 25 percent drop in global demand for wheat meant the strain wasn't as urgently needed. All remaining stocks of Roundup Ready wheat were purportedly destroyed.
The modified wheat was grown in 17 U.S. states, including Oregon, but never at the farm where the resistant stain was found. Monsanto's statement ruled out physical contamination as the source, saying, "The company's internal assessments suggest that neither seed left in the soil nor wheat pollen flow serve as reasonable explanations behind this reported detection."
In short, the agri-business colossus sounds as mystified as everyone else as to how a strain of wheat that was supposed to be completely eradicated in 2004 has spontaneously come back to life in an Oregon field.
Now, Korea and Japan have suspended imports of U.S. soft white wheat, which is used for making noodles, until they determine that none of the Monsanto wheat has entered their supply chain. So far, no GMOs have been found among the exported crops.
[image of an ear of wheat via Shutterstock.com]
The US Supreme Court appeared on Tuesday to side with Monsanto against an Indiana farmer accused of having pirated the genetically-modified crops developed by the agribusiness giant.
At stake is whether farmers can reproduce genetically-modified seeds on their own without paying for the technology again each growing season, which Monsanto says would stifle biotechnology innovation.
Critics counter that Monsanto is asserting ownership over a now nearly ubiquitous life form, which would allow it to share in the occasional profits of struggling farmers but insulate it from the risk they face.
Vernon Hugh Bowman, the 75-year-old soybean farmer at the center of the controversy, claims he acted in good faith and poses no threat to the multi-billion dollar genetically modified seed industry.
"I've done nothing wrong," Bowman said before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. "If I had done something wrong, no matter how big, they would have the right to come after me."
In a lawsuit filed in 2007, Monsanto accused Bowman of infringing on its intellectual property rights by replanting, cultivating and selling herbicide-resistant soybean seeds it spent more than a decade developing.
The patented seed, which allows farmers to aerially spray Monsanto-made Roundup herbicide over their entire fields, was invented in 1996 and is now grown by more than 90 percent of the 275,000 US soybean farmers.
Bowman claims to have respected his contract with Monsanto and purchased new Roundup Ready seeds each year for his first planting.
But he says hard times forced him to purchase a cheaper mixture of seeds from a grain elevator starting in 1999, which he used for his second planting.
The mixture included Roundup Ready soybeans, which Bowman was able to isolate and replant from 2000 to 2007.
Monsanto attorney Seth Waxman argued that Bowman was able to profit from the seed giant's technology without having to pay for it, comparing the case to software piracy.
"Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait, Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention, and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America," he argued.
"Having committed hundreds of millions of dollars in 13 years to develop this technology, in the very first sale of an article that practices the patent, it would have exhausted its rights in perpetuity."
Monsanto, which won earlier rulings in lower courts, appeared to have also convinced the nation's highest judicial body.
"Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked.
Justice Stephen Breyer, a more progressive jurist, appeared to agree.
"You know, there are certain things that the law prohibits. What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention. And that is what (Bowman) did," he said.
Bowman's attorney, Mark Walters, countered that extending Monsanto's rights to the less reliable grain elevator seed would allow it to profit from the crop without sharing the farmer's risk.
In Monsanto's legal reasoning, he said, "it doesn't matter how you come into possession with these seeds... Any cell division is patent infringement."
"So what they're essentially asking for is for the farmers to bear all the risks of farming, yet they can sit back and control how that property is used."
He added that the use of grain elevator seed by small-scale farmers like Bowman is "never going to be a threat to Monsanto's business."
After the hearing, Walters told reporters that Bowman -- from whom Monsanto has demanded $85,000 in damages -- is in dire economic straits.
But the attorney admitted that the court may rule according to the "impact of patterns of investment."
The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.
Who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground? A 75-year-old farmer takes the agricultural giant to court to find out
As David versus Goliath battles go it is hard to imagine a more uneven fight than the one about to play out in front of the US supreme court between Vernon Hugh Bowman and Monsanto.
On the one side is Bowman, a single 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer who is still tending the same acres of land as his father before him in rural south-western Indiana. On the other is a gigantic multibillion dollar agricultural business famed for its zealous protection of its commercial rights.
Not that Bowman sees it that way. "I really don't consider it as David and Goliath. I don't think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong," Bowman told The Guardian in an interview.
Either way, in the next few weeks Bowman and Monsanto's opposing legal teams will face off in front of America's most powerful legal body, weighing in on a case that deals with one of the most fundamental questions of modern industrial farming: who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground.
The legal saga revolves around Monsanto's aggressive protection of its soybean known as Roundup Ready, which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to its Roundup herbicide or its generic equivalents. When Bowman – or thousands of other farmers just like him – plant Monsanto's seeds in the ground they are obliged to only harvest the resulting crop, not keep any of it back for planting the next year. So each season, the farmer has to buy new Monsanto seeds to plant.
However, farmers are able to buy excess soybeans from local grain elevators, many of which are likely to be Roundup Ready due to the huge dominance Monsanto has in the market. Indeed in Indiana it is believed more than 90% of soybeans for sale as "commodity seeds" could be such beans, each containing the genes Monsanto developed.
Bowman, who has farmed the same stretch of land for most of the past four decades and grew up on a farm, ended up on Monsanto's radar for using such seeds – bought from a local grain elevator, rather than Monsanto – for year after year and replanting part of each crop. He did not do so for his main crop of soybeans, but rather for a smaller "second late season planting" usually planted on a field that had just been harvested for wheat. "We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some 'junk grain' and use it for seed if you desire," Bowman said.
To put it mildly, Monsanto disagrees. The firm insists that it maintains patent rights on its genetically modified seeds even if sold by a third party with no restrictions put on its use – even if the seeds are actually only descendants of the original Monsanto seeds. To that end it sued Bowman, eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456 (£53,500) against him for infringing the firm's patent rights. Monsanto says that if it allowed Bowman to keep replanting his seeds it would undermine its business model, endangering the expensive research that it uses to produce advanced agricultural products.
On a website the firm set up to highlight its arguments in the case, Monsanto insists a Bowman victory at the supreme court could "jeopardize some of the most innovative biotechnology research in the country" in industries that range from farming to medicine. It says protecting patent rights fully is vital to preserve a commercial incentive to develop and refine new products.
But Bowman has numerous supporters who believe his case could help reform aspects of commercial farming – that is now dominated by huge corporations rather than small or family-run business – to vital reforms. Bowman's legal team intends to argue that the case could open the industry to greater anti-trust scrutiny, arguing that large corporation's vice-like grip on farming and control of seeds needs to be loosened. "It opens up these transactions (buying seeds) to greater anti-trust scrutiny by the Department of Justice. Right now they are sheltered by patent trust protection," said Bowman's lawyer Mark Walters.
Campaign groups are also eager to back the case. This coming Tuesday, farming campaign groups the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds will release a joint report examining the modern seeds industry. The organizations are enthusiastic backers of Bowman's cause. Debbie Barker, a program director for SOS, said a Bowman victory at the supreme court could nudge the industry towards opening up and treating seeds as a common resource, not a fiercely fought-over commercial battleground. "It would help with wider reforms," Barker said. SOS believes Monsanto and other major firms are less concerned with protecting interests in research than in their lucrative business model. After all, just three firms now control more than 50% of the global seed market.
Yet, despite the vast sums of money involved in modern farming, it is ironically Bowman's own lack of cash that has seen the case end up at the supreme court. Monsanto has a long record of reaching settlements with commercially pressured farmers it targets for patent infringements. But when the firm sued Bowman, he was already bankrupt after an unrelated land deal went wrong. Thus, he had little to lose. "I made up my mind to fight it until I could not fight it anymore," he said. "I thought: I am not going to play dead."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
WARSAW — Poland will impose a complete ban on growing the MON810 genetically modified strain of maize made by US company Monsanto on its territory, Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki said Wednesday.
"The decree is in the works. It introduces a complete ban on the MON810 strain of maize in Poland," Sawicki told reporters, adding that pollen of this strain could have a harmful effect on bees.
On March 9, seven European countries -- Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland and Slovakia -- blocked a proposal by the Danish EU presidency to allow the cultivation of genetically-modified plants on the continent.
Seven days after that, France imposed a temporary ban on the MON810 strain.
Talks on allowing the growing of genetically-modified plants on EU soil are now deadlocked as no majority has emerged among the 27 member states.
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