It has been happening for a while. Some 350 million years or so. Roughly.
Seed-bearing plants began to flourish sometime around the mid to late Paleozoic era. About 300 million years before the first primates, and much before the appearance 195,000 years ago of Homo Sapiens.
We have relied on plants for shelter, medicine, nourishment and spiritual ritual among many other uses. They have quite literally been our life breath, in some way, for our entire lives.
They convert the sun’s energy into usable energy for their own life cycle, and for us and other animals. The seed-bearing variety of these living organisms reproduce by forming their own unique seed, and letting go, spreading the chance for new life.
The highest court in the country heard arguments last week that could provide a dangerous precedent. Vernon Hugh Bowman is not the first farmer to go up against seed giant Monsanto.
From the outside, the case is absurd. Bowman bought unmarked soybean from a grain hopper. The seed from this hopper is usually used for animal feed, but Bowman planted it. As it turned out, some of the seed was Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seed, harvested from a crop legally planted with seed bought from Monsanto.
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week on what is considered a case in patent law. Monsanto genetically engineered this seed, and therefore holds the rights to this seed. This is not just the seeds they produce and sell, it is any of this seed produced by any plant, anywhere.
This is not the first time Monsanto has flexed it’s intellectual property muscles. Bowman vs. Monsanto is only the latest in over 140 lawsuits that have resulted in about $28 million in payouts from American farmers. So, it’s not unlikely that Monsanto will prevail again.
What exactly is this saying. Essentially that a particular strain of a living organism can be patented, and owned.
Though, of course, this can only apply to a strain that the patent holder has personally manufactured through genetic alterations, it applies to a large portion of the agricultural community. In the US, 93 percent of soybeans, 86 percent of corn and 88 percent of cotton are grown from genetically engineered seed.
This interrupts the 10,000 year old tradition of agriculture, that has thrived through seed-saving techniques, and intentional planting. Of course, in relatively recent years, many larger-scale farms have stopped saving seed for themselves, preferring to purchase seed annually. However, setting a precedent that makes seed-saving essentially illegal for many farmers is reckless and an endangerment to our national well-being.
If Monsanto wins, the farmer loses. But, if Monsanto loses, perhaps agriculture will suffer even more. Monsanto has vowed not to use their “Terminator” seed technology. This seed produces plants which are sterile.
So, if the Supreme Court says that they do not own the products of their seed, perhaps they will re neg on this promise, and introduce this lethal weapon commercially. Kind of a “If I can’t have her no one can” philosophy?
What is the answer then in such a “Heads I win, Tails you lose” game? It is up to the consumer. Farmers have already seen an increase in price as Monsanto corners the seed market (Soybean prices have gone up 325 percent in the past decade). Going back to seed they had formerly used has become harder, since a decrease in demand caused scarcity. But, we have to go back, or elsewhere. Continuing the business of agriculture with companies that are not concerned with the welfare of farmers, and those that would buy the farm products, is not an option.
This is our life. But then, I’m just planting the seed.