Monsanto v. Bowman has recently won the attention of farmers and activists all over the nation."Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that there were lots of things Mr. Bowman could do with the seeds he had bought from the grain elevator.“You can feed it to animals, you can feed it to your family, make tofu turkeys,” he said.“But I’ll give you two that you can’t do,” he went on. “One, you can’t pick up those seeds that you’ve just bought and throw them in a child’s face. You can’t do that because there’s a law that says you can’t do it. Now, there’s another law that says you cannot make copies of a patented invention.”
Vernon Hugh Bowman is a 75 year old soybean farmer from Indiana. He grows conventional, Monsanto brand Roundup Ready soy, and has in the past paid their fees to use the seed. This year, Bowman purchased feed grain (grain used to feed animals) and planted it, figuring it was a loophole around the company's fees. He was hoping to grow Roundup Ready soy, he knew the feed grain might contain the GM seed. There are so many issues going on here it's hard to sort them out. First of all and most importantly, Mr. Bowman is trapped in a cycle of monoculture and GMO; like lots of other farmers. The fact that he felt there was no other way than to somehow acquire Monsanto seed is shameful to the sustainable agriculture movement. This points to a need for organizations who help American farmers become independent of large corporations, pesticides and fertilizers.
Vernon Bowman's actions were not surprising, not creative, not conniving. He did exactly what farmers have done for centuries; he followed an ancient farming ritual. Farmers in the past would have saved seed from the previous year, but if that molded or was eaten, then feed grain was always an appropriate replacement. Farmers would even have plucked out seedlings that weren't as desirable and allowed the strong ones to survive. It is a disappointment that Roundup Ready were, in this case, considered the "strong" or "elite" seeds. Regardless, the real question here is: does Monsanto have the right to patent something naturally occurring which they've manipulated, then pray on small farmers who don't pay them a royalty? What is that going to look like after Monsanto's GM seeds are everywhere? There will be no other seed. Seeds, like water, are god given. Farmers have freely grown, saved and traded them as a part of their businesses, homes, communities, schools, churches...culture.
However, the most emotional reaction I had came from how the judges, and Monsanto's lawyers, treated Bowman. "A lawyer for Monsanto, Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, was allowed to talk uninterrupted for long stretches..." - NY Times, Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean. Also, the quote from Justice Breyer above is exceedingly hostile in my opinion. To use an analogy that involves hurting a child for absolutely no reason other than to draw some kind of emotional response is sickening.
This case, as Debbie Barker from the Center for Food Safety points out in the interview below, is a microcosm of a macrocosmic problem. The problem is that corporations are claiming rights to culture. They are mutilating, enslaving and exploiting Nature...which once was part of us and we a part of it. Now the few are taxing the many for access to little bits of their "vast wealth."
NY Times; Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean; Adam Liptak; Feb. 2013