Monsanto Company is a global supplier of agricultural products that had sales in excess of $6.3 billion in 2005 (c-548). It sold genetically modified (GM) canola seeds in Canada and GM soybean seeds in the United States. The company developed a patented process in Canada that “covered the gene and process for insertion…and cells derived from that process,” and in the United States covered the entire plant. By using this patented process, seeds had an increased resistance to glyphosate (many generic herbicides contained this) and would survive being sprayed. This was the stated object of the patented invention. These plants were known as Roundup Ready.
Monsanto’s Protection of Intellectual Property
Monsanto has been extremely aggressive in protecting the patents on their GM seeds. This is clearly evident by looking at the company’s payroll. They maintain an annual budget of $10 million and employ 75 full-time associates whose job is “devoted solely to investigating and prosecuting farmers”(c-553). Monsanto has been utilizing two primary methods to protect their intellectual property: contractual agreements and legal. Monsanto used contractual agreements to protect their intellectual property by having their customers agree to a “limited use” license agreement when they purchased their seeds. A common practice and tradition in the farming community had been seed-saving, a practice called “brown-bagging” in which farmers saved the seeds from one year’s harvest and used them in the following years. The idea behind the limited use agreement was to assure that farmers were only using the Monsanto seeds for the one year that they purchased them. For additional enforcement, Monsanto included in the contract that they had the right to inspect a farmer’s fields for up to three years after the one year agreement was signed in order to ensure that the farmer had not saved and planted the Monsanto seeds. If a farmer wanted to use the Monsanto product in the future, they would be required to purchase another individual year’s worth of seed and agree to another one year contract. Of all the actions taken by Monsanto to protect their intellectual property, this is the most ethical. By signing this contract with the company, a farmer knowingly and willingly used Monsanto’s patented seeds and agreed not to save or plant the seeds for another season.
The next method that Monsanto used to protect their intellectual property was to sue farmers who unlike the previous example, often claimed they had no idea they were “using” the Monsanto seeds. It had been documented that seeds could travel up to 13 miles, and eventually germinated on another farmer’s property; even if the unsuspecting farmer had no intention of using the Monsanto product (c-555). The courts have continuously upheld rulings that Monsanto was protected under intellectual property laws rather than common law. Common law supports the practice of seed-saving for food security (c-552). Monsanto maintained that “they did not go after farmers who end up with GM canola because of unintentional cross-pollination … their concern is to go after someone who purposefully plants the seed to create a competitive advantage.”
Social and Ethical Questions
There are still many farmers that would prefer not to utilize genetically modified seeds and instead continue using more “organic” farming methods, as most did prior to the introduction of GM seeds. However, with the penetration of Monsanto and its competitors into the seed industry, it is extremely difficult for farmer’s to use the old “organic” methods. The question as to whether the utilization of genetically modified seeds is ethical is still debatable. There are theories stating that the use of GM seeds is because they “enhance taste and quality, reduce maturation time, increase nutrients, yields, and stress tolerance, improve resistance to disease pests and...
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