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'Future of Food at Stake' as Indiana Farmer Takes Monsanto to Top Court

Farmer: 'I really don't consider it as David and Goliath. I think of it in terms of right and wrong'

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Farmer Hugh Bowman on his Sandborn, Ind. farm. (Photo: AJ MastWashington Post)

75 year-old Indiana soybean farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, is taking agriculture giant Monsanto to the US Supreme Court over one of the most "systemic crisis" in modern farming: who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground.

"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," said the farmer in a recent interview. 

Filed on Bowman's behalf by sustainable food and farming organizations, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Save Our Seeds (SOS), the appeal challenges the multi-billion dollar corporation over their restrictive seed saving policies and the "agressive protection" of their soybean, known as Roundup Ready, which has been genetically engineered to resist certain herbicides.

“Mr. Bowman’s case represents a systemic crisis in U.S. agriculture,” said CFS Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell.  “Through a patenting system that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of farmers and citizens, our food and farming system is being held hostage by a handful of companies.  Nothing less than the future of food is at stake.”

Farmers using Monsanto products are legally obligated to harvest only the resulting crop and not take-part in the prudent and age-old tradition of seed-saving, forcing them to purchase new Monsanto seeds each year.

The Guardian reports:

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 [excess soybeans purchased from local grain elevators, some of which happened to contain Roundup Ready genes, rather than purchasing from Monsanto directly]– 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.

Monsanto consequently sued Bowman for "infringing the firm's patent rights" eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456.

Bowman, already bankrupt from a previous land deal, said he had little to lose in the case. "I made up my mind to fight it until I could not fight it anymore. I thought: I am not going to play dead."

“Monsanto should not be able, just because they’ve got millions and millions of dollars to spend on legal fees, to try to terrify farmers into making them obey their agreements by massive force and threats,” he adds.

The brief, filed by CFS and SOS, asks the court to end the practice of allowing corporations to place conditions on the sale of its seed and to reject an “end-run around patent exhaustion” for regeneration. It continues:

The current intellectual property environment of transgenic crops has spurred the privatization and concentration of the world’s seed supply. Market concentration has resulted in 10 multinational corporations holding approximately two-thirds (65%) of commercial seed for major crops, reducing choice and innovation, and increasing prices for the American farmer.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments later this month.

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