Fingers crossed on this one. Finally, a farmer has dragged Monsanto into the Supreme Court — unafraid of the corporate giant’s farmer-crushing practices:
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Vernon H. Bowman v. Monsanto Co, a six-year-long legal battle between a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer and a multi-billion-dollar seed conglomerate that could have profound implications for the agriculture industry and the future of American intellectual property law.
The immediate dispute in the case is whether or not Bowman infringed on Monsanto’s patent protection when he sowed second-hand commodity soybeans from a grain elevator — some of which were the genetically modified RoundUp Ready variety produced by Monsanto — then saved the seeds from the plants that grew in his fields to sow again the following year. In agriculture lingo, the practice is known as “seed saving”; farmers had been doing it for millennia before Monsanto started demanding that farmers not do so with the company’s genetically modified, patented seeds. Monsanto has been notoriously aggressive about going after those who, like Bowman, failed to heed that agreement. The Center for Food Safety recently published a report showing that Monsanto has sued 410 seed-saving farmers for patent infringement since it started selling GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, and it has never lost a case in open court.
Bowman’s attorney, Mark P. Walters, argued Tuesday that his client was allowed to save seeds because Monsanto’s patent protection only extended to the seeds it sold, not their offspring, like those from the grain elevator.
But the justices seemed no more likely to agree with this line of reasoning than had any of the lower courts that had ruled in favor of Monsanto. Seconds after Walters began speaking, Chief Justice John Roberts jumped in with an emphatic rhetorical question:
“Why in the world,” he asked, “Would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”
Back in 2010, I profiled a farmer named Scott McAllister whose life was utterly destroyed by Monsanto’s goon squad. If you want a refresher on what they normally do to farmers, go here.(h/t Seth Price)