1.Goliath and David: Monsanto's Legal Battles against Farmers
2.Percy Schmeiser - David versus Monsanto, a film by Bertram Verhag - Now on DVD!
NOTE: Also check out:
*the Vanity Fair special investigation Monsanto's Harvest of Fear, by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, one of the most widely acclaimed investigative reporting teams in American journalism and twice winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Magazine Award.
*the excellent report Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers
1.Goliath and David: Monsanto's Legal Battles against Farmers
[go to source for numbered references in this article]
* 1 Private Eyes are Watching You
* 2 Monsanto v Percy Schmeiser
* 3 Down on the Farm
* 4 Victory and Legal Aid
* 5 Other Sourcewatch Resources
Private Eyes are Watching You
"Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay."
"As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the 'seed police' and use words such as 'Gestapo' and 'Mafia' to describe their tactics" - Monsanto's Harvest of Fear.
Monsanto has sued many a farmer when their GM crops have turned up on the farmer's fields even though the farmers say they never planted them (examples  ). Farmers who get into the Roundup-Ready (RR) System lose their independence, and are obliged to sign a lengthy and restrictive agreement. . What's more Monsanto contracts out to private investigation firms like Pinkerton, to regularly check up on their farmers (and independent, non-GM farmers as well), taking samples unannounced from their fields to make sure they are not in violation  . It also maintains a hotline so farmers can turn in their neighbors for suspected violations.
According to Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers, Monsanto pursues hundreds of new investigative leads a year, 600 in 2003 for example, aimed at farmers.
"The odds are clearly stacked against the farmer: Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers. The largest recorded judgment made thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is $3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid a mean of $412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments".
To be fair, there are undoubtedly a percentage of cases wherein the "violating" farmer signed the contract with full knowledge of what he was getting himself into. Equally without doubt however, there are many who either signed without reading (or understanding) the fine print, or who were perhaps given a bag of seed by a friend (not uncommon), or whose crops were pollinated by a neighbor's GM field - the HT trait going undetected (how many farmers routinely test for herbicide tolerance?) until a large portion of his crops are GM, or who perhaps gave the engineered seed a trial run one year then next growing season changed his mind only to find that the persistant stuff keeps coming back effectively putting him in violation, etc.
Monsanto v Percy Schmeiser
In the Canadian Supreme Court case of Monsanto v Percy Schmeiser, the farmer's claim that the presence of RR crops occurred accidentally was rejected. However Schmeiser says that since he never used Monsanto's Roundup in his fields there would have been no reason for him to have RR crops. Schmeiser was not required to pay Monsanto any damages due to the fact that he had not profited from the "infringement".
Nevertheless what is disturbing to many is the fact that, though technically the court attempted to limit Monsanto's patent protection to its engineered gene, in effect the court allowed Monsanto to claim patent ownership of a plant, a form of life , and that is because the engineered gene cannot be separated from the plant - except in a lab.
"Mr. Schmeiser saved the seed and reused it 'for production and advantage,' the majority noted. 'Whether or not patent protection for the gene and the cell extends to activities involving the plant is not relevant to the patent's validity'" "The team of dissenting judges in the latest decision, led by Justice Louise Arbour, said the ruling contradicts the Harvard mouse judgment. The majority is effectively allowing Monsanto 'to do indirectly what Canadian patent law has not allowed them to do directly: namely, to acquire patent protection over whole plants,' wrote Arbour"  .
The judgment along with previous ones upon which it was built has been interpreted by many to mean that if any RR crop is found on agricultural land wherein it was not specifically purchased even if it found its way there through entirely natural means such as wind or insect pollination, the farmer is liable to Monsanto for "theft" of its property. That at least seems to be the goal of Monsanto.
A 2000 Environment News Service article on the Canadian federal court judgment noted "Monsanto did not directly try to explain how the Roundup Ready seed got there. "Whether Mr. Schmeiser knew of the matter or not matters not at all", said Roger Hughes, a Monsanto attorney quoted by the Western Producer, a Canadian agriculture magazine.... 'It was a very frightening thing, because they said it doesn't matter how it gets into a farmer's field; it's their property," Schmeiser said, in an interview with Agweek. "If it gets in by wind or cross-pollination, that doesn't matter'" . "The legal basis for Monsanto's successful claim for patent infringement was the courts' recognition that they could maintain patent protection in the patented gene even when it had passed by cross-fertilization into Schmeiser's canola crop" .
"Monsanto's Jordan said the company isn't concerned that Schmeiser won't have to pay. "The important aspect of this particular case was intellectual property, not any sort of monetary gain," she said. "The ruling affirms the way that we do business" . Of course Monsanto had been seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in "damages". For a different assessment of the decision see here .
Down on the Farm
The June 1, 2004 issue of Playboy tells how one longtime Indiana farmer, Troy Roush, once big on biotech was wrongly accused of saving seed. The legal fight cost him $390,000 in lawyers' fees. Since then he has begun to see the way the system is devastating traditional farming. "Genetically modified crops are destroying the social fabric of our rural communities" he says, "Roush probably couldn't go back to conventional crops even if he could find good conventional seed; once Monsanto's DNA is in your field it's almost impossible to get it out. And with the corporate DNA police abroad in the land, farmers can't afford to take a chance. So it looks as though there's no turning back from a future in which Monsanto and a handful of other companies own the genetic building blocks of the world's food supply. 'I'd put the genie back in the bottle in a heartbeat,' says Roush" .
"'I don't believe any company has the right to come into someone's home and threaten their livelihood,'" says Dawn Runyon, who along with Daivd Runyon own a 900-acre Indiana farm, "'to bring them into such physical turmoil as this company did to us'. The Runyons charge bio-tech giant Monsanto sent investigators to their home unannounced, demanded years of farming records, and later threatened to sue them for patent infringement. The Runyons say an anonymous tip led Monsanto to suspect that genetically modified soybeans were growing on their property. 'I wasn't using their products, but yet they were pounding on my door demanding information, demanding records,' Dave said. 'It was just plain harassment is what they were doing'.... Farmers [in the Roundup Ready System] must sign an iron-clad agreement not to re-plant the harvested seed, or face serious legal consequences - up to $3 million in damages.... The Runyons say they signed no agreements, and if they were contaminated with the
genetically modified seed, it blew over from a neighboring farm. 'Pollination occurs, wind drift occurs. There's just no way to keep their products from landing in our fields,' David said.... In fact, in Feb. 2005 the Runyons received a letter from Monsanto, citing 'an agreement' with the Indiana Department of Agriculture giving it the right to come on their land and test for seed contamination. Only one problem: The Indiana Department of Agriculture didn't exist until two months after that letter was sent. What does that say to you?" Agricultural Giant Battles Small Farmers.
Victory and Legal Aid
California's Mendocino County as of March 2, 2004 became the first county in the nation to ban the growing of genetically altered crops and animals  via ballot Measure H despite a massive campaign against it from the usual suspects.
In a rare victory for the 'little guy' the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), announced July 24, 2007 "that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has rejected four key Monsanto patents related to genetically modified crops... because the agricultural giant is using them to harass, intimidate, sue - and in some cases literally bankrupt - American farmers." The article goes on to say "One study of the matter found that, 'Monsanto has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed'.... 'Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of the harm being caused to the public by Monsanto's aggressive assertion of these patents, which threatens family farms and a diverse American food supply'" said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's Executive Director . Monsanto plans to ask for a reconsideration.
"A landmark piece of legislation protecting California's farmers from liability was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on Sept. 27, 2008. The bill, AB 541 (Huffman, D-Marin/Sonoma), was sponsored by a coalition of agriculture organizations and food businesses, and it is the first bill passed by the California legislature that brings much-needed regulation to genetically engineered (GE) crops. AB 541 indemnifies California farmers who have not been able to prevent the inevitable - the drift of GE pollen or seed onto their land and the subsequent contamination of non-GE crops.... The bill also establishes a mandatory crop sampling protocol to level the playing field when biotech companies investigate alleged patent or contract violations.... 'AB 541 provides much needed protection for farmers who typically lack the resources to fight lawsuits brought by biotech conglomerates,' stated Renata Brillinger, director of the Genetic Engineering Policy Project, the coalition sponsoring AB 541.
'This is a good first step towards establishing that Monsanto - not farmers - is legally responsible for the economic, environmental and health harms caused by their patented and uncontrollable products'" . "The bill is one of only a handful of states that have any restrictions on GE whatsoever. Of the other three that address farmer liability protections (Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota), California's provides the broadest protections" .
For legal aid to farmers a couple of groups, FLAG  and RAFI  have produced a book, Farmers' Guide to GMOs .
Other Sourcewatch Resources
* Percy Schmeiser vs. Monsanto
* Schmeiser's story
* Mississippi Farmer Fights Monsanto over Seed Saving
* Seeds of doubt: North American farmers' experiences of GM crops
* Ted Nace, "Breadbasket of Democracy," Orion Magazine, May/June 2006
2.Percy Schmeiser - David versus Monsanto
a film by Bertram Verhag - Now on DVD!
TEL: +49-89-52 66 01
FAX: +49-89-523 47 42
Imagine that a storm blows across your garden - and that now, without your knowledge and without your consent, foreign and genetically-manipulated seeds are in your vegetable patch which you have nourished and maintained for many years. A few days later, representatives of a multi-national corporate group pay you a visit at home, demand that you surrender your vegetables and file a criminal complaint against you requesting a fine a $20,000 USD against you - for the illegal use of patented and genetically-manipulated seeds.
What's more: The court finds for the corporate group!
Yet, you fight back....
This short story is no utopia - rather, around the world, the bitter truth. It is also the true experience of the family of Percy and Louise Schmeiser in Canada, also winners of the Alternative Nobel Prize, who meanwhile have been fighting the chemicals and seed manufacturer Monsanto since 1996. Nowadays, nearly three-fourths of genetically-manipulated plants harvested worldwide originate from Monsanto's labs. Monsanto is a U.S. based corporate group which calls the dismal inventions such as DDT, PCB and Agent Orange its own. In its efforts to gain absolute hegemony over plants - from the field all the way to teh consumer's plate - Monsanto knows no qualms. The farmers Tony Rush, David Runyon and Marc Loiselle also learned the hard way what it means to be confronted with Monsanto's methods of doing business, as did thousands of other farmers worldwide.
They and the Schmeisers are not just fighting against Monsanto - and with that, for the continuation of their livelihood as farmers - but also for the right to freedom of speech and the right to their property.
Yet above all, they are campaigning for the future of their children and grandchildren - so that they too, will have a chance to grow up in a world without genetically-manipulated food.
This film is reassuring...reassuring to all who fear that as an individual, no one would have any power to confront policy makers, large corporations or the business world. "David vs. Monsanto" proves the opposite.
DIRECTOR - Bertram Verhaag - DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY - Waldemar Hauschild - FILM EDITOR - Verena Schonauer - SOUND - Zoltan Ravasz VDT - ASSISTANT - Isabel Theiler, Kim Koch - MUSIC - Bauer Karger Holzapfel
PRODUCED BY DENKMAL - FILM - GmbH, MUNICH
TEL: +49-89-52 66 01
FAX: +49-89-523 47 42