Seed Cleaners and Monsanto

February 16, 2009

Seed Cleaners
Seed Cleaners

Recently there has been a minor buzz in the blogosphere about seed cleaners. The allegations are seed cleaners are being targeted by Monsanto, reportedly because we are trying to “remove access to normal, open pollinated seeds”–presumably so farmers will be forced to buy our patented, biotech seeds. As is often the situation, the truth is far less dramatic than fiction–and this is especially true in this case.

First, growers have been moving away from open-pollinated seeds to hybrids for decades. Hybrids often provide distinct advantages, most notably yield. But, you generally can’t save seed from most hybrids because the resulting offspring are genetically inconsistent, and will not offer the same benefits as the parent seed.

Second, intellectual property protection for seed and plant material is neither new nor unique to either biotech or Monsanto. In most developed countries plant breeders have had legal protection from the unauthorized reproduction of their innovations for decades. Without this protection, there would be little incentive for breeders to invest time and money into developing new plant varieties. In the U.S., intellectual property protection for plant materials exists in both patent law and under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA). Google the terms “raspberry” and “patented” and you will get a sense of how commonplace patent protection is in plant breeding. You should also note that there are no commercially-approved genetically-modified (GM) raspberries (or any GM raspberries of which I am aware).

Third, Monsanto isn’t the only company or group that protects its intellectual property. The Kansas Wheat Alliance recently took action against a number of farmers who violated the PVPA. North Carolina State University Extension Service has published an excellent bulletin for growers and seed cleaners–informing them of laws and regulations governing saving, cleaning and planting protected varieties of wheat. Wheat, like raspberries, is not GM.

Finally, Monsanto is not trying to remove open pollinated/unpatented seeds from the market. We have nothing against seed cleaners. The vast majority of seed cleaners are law-abiding business people who run legitimate operations that serve the needs of the agricultural community–just like Monsanto. We have taken exception to, and action against, seed cleaners who have knowingly participated in infringing on Monsanto patents. However, stating that Monsanto is out to get all seed cleaners is like saying all seed cleaners violate patent laws and the PVPA. It simply isn’t true.

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3 Responses to “Seed Cleaners and Monsanto”

  1. Shaun Haney Says:

    Very good post. I think that people need to understand the benefits of bio tech and spend less time assuming the worst. As a seed cleaner myself I strongly believe in intellectual property. People need to realize that in all crops if we do not return money back to the breeder then it is a self fullfilling prophecy for the genetics business in the future. In Canada this is what has held cereal genetics from advanceing. In cereals there is low amounts of money flowing into research due to low uses of certified seed and the ability for breeders to execute a return.

  2. Nancy Hediger Says:

    Would you please address the following questions.
    When Monsanto sues a farmer who saves seed that has cross pollinated with gm seed, which he had no way to prevent, why does the court not find for the farmer who is trying to make living the way he has done his entire life? Do you know of any other choices for him besides using Monsanto seeds or going out of business?

  3. Ewan Ross Says:

    Nancy – I’m not sure that this has ever happened

    (links from Kates post on another blog)

    In short Monsanto only prosecutes farmers where it believes there has been a knowing and deliberate violation of intellectual property rights (such as thecase of Percy Schmeisser who selected for GM canola in his field by spraying said field with roundup, collected seeds from the surviving plants, and then planted 1000 acres with these seeds)

    The choice facing all farmers is to not deliberately infringe patent laws – 99.95% of growers in the past 10 years have managed this just fine, the farmer in your hypothetical case does not, and will not exist.

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