Over a decade ago, Monsanto sued two farmers in Arkansas for saving and replanting 800 bushels of Roundup Ready soybeans.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Supreme Court accepted an appeal filed by a farmer seeking to sidestep Monsanto’s planting restrictions on its genetically modified seeds.
The justices said they will review a federal appeals court decision that Vernon Hugh Bowman infringed Monsanto’s patents when he planted soybeans he had bought from a grain elevator.
Those beans were the product of seeds covered by Monsanto’s patents, and Monsanto says its rights extend to the second-generation beans. Last year, 94 percent of U.S. soybeans were engineered to tolerate herbicides such as Roundup.
Although saving seed is a common practice for farmers, Monsanto prohibits the practice and required farmers to buy new seed from the company every year. Monsanto’s seed monopoly results in price control, and farmers experience significant increases every year.
Because Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans are creations of the company, Monsanto patented their genetically engineered beans which are immune to Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide; the genetic trait has been available in soybeans since 1996.
From 1999 to 2007, Bowman bypassed Monsanto by buying less expensive soybeans from a grain elevator. But because the second-generation beans proved to be herbicide-resistant, Monsanto sued Bowman.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sided with Monsanto, rejecting Bowman’s contention that Monsanto had “exhausted” its patent rights by the time he bought the seed.
The appeals court said Bowman “created a newly infringing article” by growing a new generation of soybeans with the seed.
Bowman’s lawyers said in the appeal that the issue “affects every farmer in the country and the method of planting that farmers such as Mr. Bowman have used for generations.”
The Obama administration sides with Monsanto and the Supreme Court took up the case against the advice of the Obama administration, which said the Federal Circuit reached the right conclusion in the case.
Chuck Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources in Enterprise, Oregon, said he would be surprised if the Supreme Court overturned the prohibition on seed saving.
“If it’s overturned, it will have cataclysmic repercussions for the business model in the seed biotech industry,” Benbrook said by telephone. “It would basically end the agricultural biotech industry as we know it, certainly for soybeans.”
Now 9 out of 10 soybean seeds carry the Roundup Ready trait. Monsanto has unprecedented control of the corn and soybean market. Their Roundup Ready corn is now planted on nearly 80 percent of the farmland acreage in the U.S., and Monsanto’s soybeans, with their Roundup Ready gene, is in 93 percent of U.S. soybean seeds.
The court will hear arguments and rule by June. The case is Bowman v. Monsanto, 11-796.
October 11th, 2012