POSTED: 19 JULY 2008 - 4:00pm EST

Monsanto's Seed Police Bully Farmers

image above:Nelson the bully from 'The Simpsons' dons a Mondanto watch cap

Patent fight ensnares Missouri farm town
by Alan Scher Zagier 10 July 2008 in

Soybean farmer David Brumback calls himself a loyal customer of Monsanto Co. His product of choice: genetically engineered seeds resistant to pesticides and weed killers.

So when the biotech giant named Brumback and more than 100 other local farmers in a subpoena seeking five years of sales records, his first reaction was befuddlement. Then anger. "With Monsanto, you're guilty until you're proven innocent," he said.

Across rural America, Monsanto is known for aggressive legal efforts to protect its patent. Farmers who save and replant the patented seeds in subsequent growing seasons quickly hear from the company's lawyers - and almost always lose, or settle out of court before trial.

Now Monsanto is raising the stakes against this so-called seed piracy with an unprecedented lawsuit against a farm co-op it accuses of aiding the illegal practice by cleaning seeds for use in future crops.

That practice violates the contract between Monsanto and farmers which prohibits farmers from stockpiling seeds or selling second-generation seeds.
Lawyers for the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator Inc, offer a more nefarious explanation: Monsanto wants to make an example of the co-op through tactics that reek of bullying and intimidation.

The company's enforcement strategy includes private investigators, video surveillance and a toll-free hot line provided for farmers and business owners to anonymously report violations to what farmers call the "seed police."

Sometimes though, the company's zealous enforcement efforts ensnare innocent bystanders. Gary Rinehart, a northern Missouri convenience store owner, said he was accosted in 2002 by a Monsanto private investigator who warned him not to fight the company. Only Rinehart doesn't own a farmer or sell seeds. Monsanto sued Rinehart in federal court before dropping its case.

A 2007 study by the Center for Food Safety showed that Monsanto had collected between $107 million and $186 million in patent infringement settlements before and after trial. The largest judgment, against a North Carolina farmer, topped $3.05 million.

A Tennessee farmer was sentenced to eight months in prison after he was caught lying about a truckload of cotton seed he hid for a friend.

And a Canadian canola grower was sued even after the company acknowledged that the patented seeds merely drifted onto his land or fell off trucks headed to grain elevators.

see also:
Island Breath: Monsanto guilty of contamination  7/3/08
Island Breath: World according to Monsanto 5/5/08
Island Breath: Monsanto's harvest of fear 4/21/08
Island Breath: GMO food gamble 3/21/08