Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Monsanto’s Right to Patent Seeds (And Sue You)

The Supreme Court announced its ruling yesterday in favor of biotech giant Monsanto in the highly publicized Bowman v. Monsanto case brought about by an Indiana farmer over the company’s right to patent seeds.

Last December, two policy and advocacy groups, the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds, filed the brief on behalf of 75-year-old Vernon Hugh Bowman, who was sued by Monsanto for allegedly saving the company’s patented GMO soybean seeds for planting the next season.

Bowman argues that he bought the seeds from a grain elevator, and therefore did not owe the company the more than $80,000 in damages that an Indiana judge ruled. His filing with the Supreme Court challenged the current laws that allow companies to patent seeds and collect royalties from farmers. Bowman represented thousands of small-scale farmers and food activists who believe the Supreme Court should safeguard seeds as a public good, allowing farmers to save them, as has been done for thousands of years. But according to the Supreme Court’s ruling [PDF], “Patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission.”

“This decision is a setback for the nation’s farmers,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, in a statement. “The food movement will not be stopped by one misguided ruling. CFS is committed to protecting farmers from patent persecution and furthering the goals of seed independence and creating a more sustainable agricultural future.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling […] tightens the seed giant’s stranglehold on American agriculture. It will no doubt pave the way for greater use and development of genetically engineered seed products and use of toxic pesticides,” said General Counsel for the Environmental Working Group, Thomas Cluderay.

While the USDA’s announcement last week that it would require further safety testing on Monsanto and Dow Chemical’s corn, soy, and cotton seeds genetically engineered to resist dicamba and 2,4-D (Agent Orange) before moving ahead with approval, was a slight victory for anti-GMO activists, the SCOTUS ruling overshadows it. “The Court chose to protect Monsanto over farmers. The Court’s ruling is contrary to logic and to agronomics, because it improperly attributes seeds’ reproduction to farmers, rather than nature,” said Kimbrell.

The anti-GMO movement has been tirelessly battling for GMO regulations, including label laws like the recently introduced federal proposal from California Senator Barbara Boxer and Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio. Said Cluderay, “This is yet another reason why we need clear labeling of GE foods so that consumers can make better choices when buying food for themselves and their families.”

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