As I understand the issues:WASHINGTON (AP) — Vernon Hugh Bowman seems comfortable with the old way of doing things, right down to the rotary-dial telephone he said he was using in a conference call with reporters.
But the 75-year-old Indiana farmer figured out a way to benefit from a high-technology product, soybeans that are resistant to weed-killers, without always paying the high price that such genetically engineered seeds typically bring. In so doing, he ignited a legal fight with seed-giant Monsanto Co. that has now come before the Supreme Court, with argument taking place Tuesday.
The court case poses the question of whether Bowman's actions violated the patent rights held by Monsanto, which developed soybean and other seeds that survive when farmers spray their fields with the company's Roundup brand weed-killer. The seeds dominate American agriculture, including in Indiana where more than 90 percent of soybeans are Roundup Ready.
Monsanto has attracted a bushel of researchers, universities and other agribusiness concerns to its side because they fear a decision in favor of Bowman would leave their own technological innovations open to poaching. The company's allies even include a company that is embroiled in a separate legal battle with Monsanto over one of the patents at issue in the Bowman case.
The Obama administration also backs Monsanto, having earlier urged the court to stay out of the case because of the potential for far-reaching implications for patents involving DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies.
Monsanto's opponents argue that the company has tried to use patent law to control the supply of seeds for soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets and alfalfa. The result has been a dramatic rise in seed prices and reduced options for farmers, according to the Center for Food Safety. The group opposes the spread of genetically engineered crops and says their benefits have been grossly overstated.
"It has become extremely difficult for farmers to find high-quality conventional seeds," said Bill Freese, the center's science policy analyst.
1) Monsanto makes a pesticide, Roundup, which they sell.
2) But, the pesticide also hurts the plants that it protects.
3) Monsanto also makes plants, which have been genetically engineered, so that Roundup doesn't hurt them as much. Monsanto gets to sell both the pesticide, and the plants that are resistant to it.
4) Problem for Monsanto is, these seeds they sell, well, they grow into plants, and those plants make seeds, and the seeds that the plants make also have the genetic resistance.
5) So, when a farmer buys the engineered seeds, he also agrees to a contract, in which he promises that he will not use the seeds that his plants produce, as seeds for the next crop. He has to buy new seeds form Monsanto, for every crop.
6) So, Farmer X buys seeds from Monsanto. Plants them. Raises a crop. Harvests it. Sells the soybeans at the local grain elevator. (And then he buys more seeds from Monsanto, and plants them, and starts his next crop.)
7) The grain elevator buys soybeans from all the local formers, both the patented ones and the natural ones. And then they sell the soybeans to all kinds of customers. Both big industrial customers, and local users. (For example, ranchers buy them to feed to livestock.)
8) Farmer Y buys soybeans from the grain elevator, and uses them for seed. He figures that a high percentage of them are patented seed (since most of the local farmers use the patented seed). They aren't all patented, but most of them are.
Now, Monsanto is claiming that their genetically engineered product, which they hold the patent on, is covered by their contract (which forbids using engineered beans for seed.)
The farmer is claiming that he didn't agree to Monsanto's contract, because he didn't buy the seeds from Monsanto.
There's all kinds of ways I can see this thing argued. To me, one of the main ones is: If a company owns a patent on a life form, then does their patent give them the power to punish me, if their life form reproduces? Me, or anyone else who that life form comes into contact with?
I will observe that no, I am not intending to start a thread about whether you think genetic engineering, or engineered food, are evil or some such.