Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
December 14, 1998
Monsanto is tracking down U.S. farmers who are replanting seed from Monsanto's genetically engineered crops. In the company's own words, "Monsanto is vigorously pursuing growers who pirate any brand or variety of its genetically enhanced seed, such as Roundup Ready soybeans and cotton and Bollgard cotton."* The company has hired five full-time investigators to follow up on seed saving leads that it receives. To date, Monsanto has at least 475 cases in the U.S., generated from over 1,800 leads. More than 250 of these cases are under investigation in at least 20 states. Monsanto maintains that seed saving is illegal even if a farmer did not sign an order or invoice statement for the seed at time of purchase.
In one case, an Illinois farmer admitted saving and replanting Roundup Ready soybeans and also acknowledged that he traded the seed with neighbors and a local seed cleaner in return for other goods. The farmer's settlement with Monsanto included a US$35,000 fine plus full documentation confirming disposal of his soybean crop. In addition, the farmer and all other parties involved must allow Monsanto to inspect their soybean production records and provide full access to all of their property, both owned and leased, for inspections, collection and testing of soybean plants and seed for the next five years.
Other cases include:
-- A Kentucky grower who was fined US$25,000 for illegally saving seed;
-- An Iowa farmer who paid US$16,000 for seed saving; and
-- Two Illinois farmers who settled with Monsanto for US$15,000 and US$10,000.Each of these growers will also undergo on-site farm and record inspections for at least five years.
No one knows exactly how many farmers in industrialized countries save seed from their harvest each year. By some estimates, 20% to 30% of all soybean fields in the U.S. midwest were typically planted with farmer-saved seed, a practice now threatened by Monsanto.
Monsanto adds a US$6.50 "technology" fee to each 50 pound bag of Roundup Ready soybean seed, which is enough to plant just under one acre. Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybean seed three years ago, and by next year, analysts estimate that at least half of the 70 million acres of soybeans grown in the U.S. will be Roundup Ready. Based on these figures, Monsanto will collect approximately US$200 million in technology fees alone on the seed next year.
Worldwide plantings of Monsanto's genetically engineered crops more than doubled this year to approximately 55 million acres (22 million hectares). In 1997, some 23 million acres were planted, and in 1996 Monsanto's transgenic crops were grown on only three million acres. In 1998, the vast majority of these crops were grown in the U.S. -- primarily Roundup Ready soybeans (25 million acres) and YieldGard maize* (11 million acres).
*"Roundup Ready" crops are engineered to withstand application of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate). Bollgard cotton and YieldGard maize are engineered to contain an insecticidal toxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is used as a biological pesticide.
Sources: "Monsanto Releases Seed Piracy Case Settlement Details," Monsanto press release, September 29, 1998; "Monsanto Tracks Down Seed Violators," Evansville Courier, October 28, 1998; "Terminator Technology Prevents Farmers from Saving Seed," Global Pesticide Campaigner, June 1998; Agrow: World Crop Protection News, November 27, 1998.