Every year for the past 13 years, biotechnology giant Monsanto Company has sued about 11 farmers per year for patent infringement of their genetically modified corn and soybean seeds. Many of these farmers have had to pay a settlement to the corporation even when their fields were accidentally contaminated with GM seeds from a neighboring farm. Monsanto simply outspends the defendants, dedicating $10 million a year and 75 staffers for the sole purpose of investigating and prosecuting farmers. Farmers who have sued Monsanto back have been soundly defeated.
Monsanto is likely to continue this winning streak with an assist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which released a final report Monday absolving the biotech industry of contamination of non-GM seeds with their products from other fields. The USDA report concludes that organic and other non-GM farmers should simply buy insurance to protect against GMO contamination.
Essentially, Monsanto can sue these farmers all they want for patent infringement, but they are immune to challenges from organic farmers whose products are contaminated by GMOs. As one dissenting committee member commented:
Any farmer/seed grower contaminated will not want to disclose the contamination because they are illegally in possession of a patented material and could be subject to legal action for theft of intellectual property. The committee refused to ever recognize this fact.
The report is just the latest example of the USDA’s cozy relationship with the biotech industry. In fact, the agency has never denied a single application for GM crop approval. Monsanto’s power extends beyond the USDA — also on Monday, the Department of Justice dropped their antitrust investigation into Monsanto’s near monopoly on the nation’s seeds. The stalled Farm Bill in Congress also contains a so-called “Monsanto rider” that would entirely deregulate GM crops and allow Monsanto to basically approve its own product.
There is a slim chance Monsanto’s fortunes could change with a Supreme Court case on this term’s docket. In an unprecedented move, the high court agreed to take on an Indiana farmer’s appeal after he was ordered to pay Monsanto $80,000 for patent infringement. Though the current Supreme Court is quite openly sympathetic to corporate interests, their decision to hear the case at all bodes well for farmers grappling with the agricultural giant all over the country.