Bringing Down Monsanto: Reform Plant Patent Act

1x1.trans Bringing Down Monsanto: Reform Plant Patent ActIn a recent Slate article, Frederick Kaufman, author of “Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food,” questions the efficacy of current strategies employed in opposing biotech companies like Monsanto.

Kaufman suggests initiatives such as California’s Proposition 37, which would have mandated labeling of GM foods, focuses on the wrong issue:

“If the goal of the American food movement is to offer an alternative to Big Food, if the goal is to foster small farmers worldwide, to develop better connections between rural and urban environments, and to support sustainable farming techniques — then labeling GM foods…will not come anywhere close to doing the job.”

Kaufman believes the food movement should focus all their energy on patent laws.

“Instead of tilting at the windmill of food labels, food nonprofits should hire a fleet of I.P. lawyers and send them to Washington to demand reform of the Plant Patent Act. When there’s less profit in genetic modification, things will get better for consumers, farmers, and scientists—pretty much everyone except corporate executives.”

Beyond potential health risks, Kaufman insists GM food has become dangerous to society because it’s patented, and claims the driving force behind the development of genetic crop modifications is profit potential.

The source of those potential profits is rooted in the following bit of legal code:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor.

Kaufman points out that originally, patent law applied only to nonedible inventions, but since the Plant Patent Act of 1930 was passed, genetically altered food has been subject to intellectual property protection, and the creation of new foods has become a reliable way to ensure profit streams for whoever patented them first.

1x1.trans Bringing Down Monsanto: Reform Plant Patent ActGenetically modified food has progressed from apples grafted from one tree onto another to plants that grow from GM seeds.

Then came “Utility patent” protection in 1985, which expanded intellectual property rights to methods of engineering a plant, including genetic sequences inserted into a species’s genome.

In essence, says Kaufman, plant patent laws created the industrial food system that the modern food movement rightly decries.

It was utility patent protection that opened the door for Monsanto’s present-day global seed and insecticide portfolio, including rights to its infamous “terminator” or “suicide seed” technology.

Monsanto’s Terminator seeds sterilizes second-generation plants and makes it a legal violation for farmers to gather seeds for next year’s crop.

Monsanto has prosecuted farmers who discover GM corn or soy sprouts growing on their land after the wind carries seeds over from neighbors’ GM fields.

The basis for these ludicrous lawsuits are plant patent laws, forcing farmers to inadvertently violate Monsanto’s intellectual property rights.

[see Over 270,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto].

Patent laws have allowed Monsanto to establish a vertical monopoly.

“If you want Monsanto’s high-yielding Roundup Ready seeds, you’ll need Monsanto’s Roundup insecticide; and if you buy Roundup insecticide, you’ll need Roundup Ready seeds.”

Kaufman suggests that when food becomes a legal construct or an intellectual property right, it stops being food.

“More than eight decades’ worth of plant patent protection has formed one of the agricultural industry’s strongest bulwarks—and that’s why patent laws are exactly what the food movement should be targeting,” says Kaufman.

And he adds: “The most direct and efficient way to undermine the food industrialist monopoly of the molecular seed business is to reform these patent laws.”

Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper
Spence Cooper

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