What Do Monsanto and Food, Inc. Have in Common? Intellectual Property

June 15, 2009

Food, Inc. Movie

The movie Food, Inc. is premiering this week across the United States. The movie, according to its promotional Web site, “lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.”

I like conspiracy flicks, so judging by the above description, I might like this one too.  If I choose to see it, I’ll purchase a ticket at the movie theater or maybe wait to order it on Netflix.  I won’t download a bootlegged copy from an Internet file-sharing program or order a black-market copy on eBay – that would be stealing.  How do I know?  Because movie disclaimers tell me so:

THIS MOTION PICTURE IS PROTECTED UNDER THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES AND OTHER COUNTRIES.  UNAUTHORIZED DUPLICATION, DISTRIBUTION OR EXHIBITION MAY RESULT IN CIVIL LIABILITY AND CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.

The above warning appears at the end of the credits for Food, Inc., according to the movie’s Web site.  The disclaimer serves to remind viewers that the people involved in the production of the film invested a great deal of time, effort and money into the production of the film–and that the resulting product is their intellectual property.

Ironically, the defense of intellectual property is the bone that Kenner has to pick with Monsanto in Food, Inc. Reviews of the film state Kenner depicts our company as a bully that prevents farmers from saving “their own seed” after harvest, and that Monsanto lawyers pick on farmers until they are broke or put out of business.

In actuality, farmers are our customers–and we are only successful when farmers are successful.  Moreover, we know farmers are businesspeople who choose seeds that will provide them with the highest profit.  As a result, many choose biotech seeds (whether produced by Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences, etc.) for higher yields and lower input costs.

The first time growers purchase Monsanto seed, they sign a stewardship agreement and contract agreeing not to save and replant seeds produced from the crops they grow from Monsanto seed.  In excess of 250,000 growers a year give their word that they’ll abide by their grower agreement.  Over the last 10 years, only 138 lawsuits were filed against those suspected of patent infringement, and of those cases, nine were resolved by trial.  In all nine cases, the court found in favor of Monsanto’s right to protect its intellectual property.

I assume that those with a financial stake in the movie’s performance will have various safeguards in place to protect their investment.  As when most films debut, I assume that movie theater operators will have their staff on the lookout for hidden cameras and other recording devices that could produce the aforementioned “UNAUTHORIZED DUPLICATION.”  Public relations staff will likely monitor sites like YouTube© for bootleg movies, and I imagine lawyers will be at the ready to threaten legal action against file-sharing sites that facilitate the transfer of pirated video–that “UNAUTHORIZED DISTRIBUTION” the credits warned us against.  Taking these steps does not mean that the makers of Food, Inc. and their associated partners are being bullies–it means they are simply defending their intellectual property from theft.

And we’ll understand.

And if they happen to win a piracy case in court, I’d suggest they do what Monsanto does and donate the proceeds from patent infringement settlements to non-profits. I think they’ll find it to be quite rewarding.

John is a Manager of Public Affairs at Monsanto. He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis. He has worked in government on the federal, state and local level. Immediately prior to coming to Monsanto, he worked at a local public relations firm. John has an extensive background in Internet communications and looks forward to writing about a wide variety of issues, especially intellectual property, corporate ethics and biofuels.

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41 Responses to “What Do Monsanto and Food, Inc. Have in Common? Intellectual Property”

  1. Carly Says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Good job John!

  2. CHB Says:

    Since you took the liberty of deciding the commonality here, I’ll point out the major difference: Monsanto is patenting LIFE, they’re patenting creative work. The replication of your patented “work” IS GUARANTEED AND BEYOND YOUR CONTROL. In addition, it has dangerous implications for the world at large. Not so with the “stealing” of a movie. . .

    I’d think this concept would be obvious to most people reading. But keep digging your own holes, there’s plenty of organic compost to fill them in.

  3. Alyssa Says:

    I love the unique angle you took with this post — excellent work!

  4. John C. Says:

    CHB, I’m confused by your assertion that replication of Monsanto’s patented seed is guaranteed, and that it has “dangerous implications for the world at large.” Can you explain what you mean? Thanks.


  5. “Patenting Life” is a misnomer. Obviously, Monsanto and other biotech companies are not ‘patenting life’ – because patenting is restricted to non-obvious human inventions. They are patenting a gene inserted into life, not the life itself.

    Besides, there are many people who argue against the ownership of all media, be it TV, film, radio, music, etc. They argue that these are part of our culture, as part of humanity as the genes in our own cells. That’s not too different, IMO.

    The IP parallel between a GE crop and a movie also occurred to me – it would make an interesting question to ask the producer.

  6. Brad Says:

    CHB
    The patenting of life is nothing new. The first US patent for a life form was granted to Louis Pasteur for a yeast used in brewing beer – in the 1800s.

    The Plant Patent Act of 1930 made it possible to patent plants and many have been patented since then, and before biotech seed or Monsanto’s involvement in the seed industry. Google “raspberry” and “patent” to get an idea of how widespread plant patents are.

    As for the “dangerous implications” to which you refer, your opinion is in conflict with the greater scientific community and regulatory agencies worldwide.

  7. Eva Says:

    Excellent post! What a unique perspective on this issue.

  8. Carey Michelle Says:

    Well, since someone took the liberty of answering for me on this blog a while back, I’ll do the same now. BTW, thanks Christa! CHB probably means that Monsanto’s patented seed will somehow find its way into a farmer’s field (who does not want it), like Percy Schmeiser, who was then sued by the company. That should not be too hard for y’all to figure out since you spend millions of dollars dealing with this very problem. Perhaps the dangerous implications for the world at large is referring to the fact that many scientists, including the FDA’s own have stated that GMOs cause health problems, like MON 863. Or like the Flavr Savr tomato, which was approved despite the fact that the test rats had lesions in their stomachs. Or perhaps CHB is referring to the fact that the central dogma behind agricultural biotech is based on a disproven theory that one gene codes for one trait. You guys know that is not really the case, right? Or maybe, just maybe, CHB is concerned that one of your terminator field tests will go horribly wrong and the following will happen (according to Cornell GEO-PIE): “Any plant carrying the terminator gene will not produce viable seeds. If the pollen from a GE plant carrying a GURT system fertilizes a plant in a nearby non-GE field, that pollination will not produce a viable seed. If the pollen fertilizes a wild, weedy relative of the crop, it will also fail to produce a hybrid seed.” When this occurs, will Monsanto be paying for the destruction of the other farmers’ crops like they do now when their GMOs don’t perform like they’re supposed to (South African maize, cotton in the South, etc…)? Also, I don’t think your “unique angle” makes much sense. You cannot compare patenting seeds, which can spread their (Monsanto’s?)genes around to affect other people’s livelihoods. Food Inc. is not going to appear in my family’s cotton fields one day resulting in Mr. Kenner showing up with a team of lawyers trying to hold me financially responsible! You people are really pretty ignorant if you think this is a good argument. And please stop saying GMOs are needed to feed a growing population! If we actually needed more food, why are we using food to fuel our cars and make plastics? It is a distribution problem, not a production one. We have so much corn it is coming out our ears! No pun intended. No one wants to buy it in Japan or the EU because it is GMO! Even Zambia would not take it during a famine a few years back! They would not eat it and they were starving! Finally, the idea behind the terminator gene is completely at odds with a company that claims its technology is needed to help feed a growing planet. Your company contradicts itself so much. Like saying how sustainable the technologies are. If they are so sustainable, why is Monsanto begging to use more water on Molokai that belongs to the Native Hawaiian homesteaders? That does not sound very sustainable to me. Just stop with the stupid, irrelevant comparisons and LIES!

    • Kate Says:

      Carey,
      How are you? Glad to see you’re back at the blog – I hope you are well – I remember last time we briefly spoke about your fight with Epstein Barr. I hope the condition is not bothering you again.

      You address several subjects in your comment and I’ll do my best to answer them to the best of my ability.

      I hope to address your comments about the terminator gene and Percy Schmeiser by briefly addressing the issue of pollen drift. While it’s true pollen does travel by wind, clothing, insects, people, etc. there are some limitations to the distance pollen can travel. Corn, for example, has heavy pollen and it doesn’t travel very far in the wind. As to Percy Schmeiser, his fields here 95%-98% RoundUp Ready – it is not very feasible to think that that case was caused by pollen drift, the courts were also not persuaded that pollen drift was the culprit. Typically pollen drift is minimal and to date no organic farmer has ever lost certification because of GMO contamination. As to terminator seeds, its a bit of a moot point (Monsanto pledged not to use the technology in 1996) but there are several different types of sterility – you could develop a plant that produces sterile pollen – thus eliminating the situation you suggested but again, moot point, the technology is not being used.

      A brief note on your reference to South African maize, this was not a biotech problem but a pollination problem which could have occured with any hybrid and as you’ve mentioned, we’ve compensated the affected farmers – http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/04/02/gm-corn-in-south-africa/
      I am unaware of any problems with cotton.

      As to the comparison that John made, I do not think he was trying to draw a perfect comparison – obviously movies do not replicate themselves but they do have a habit of turning up in places that the producers would rather not see them in such as YouTube or Vimeo. I think, rather John was suggesting that it’s a bit of a contradiction for a company who is notorious for having subpoenaed Google (twice) for YouTube user information to go after YouTubers that posted a copywritten video to then lay blame on a company that also seeks protection rights for its products.

      While Mr. Kenner is unlikely to show up in your cotton field I bet you would likely be escorted out of a theater if he caught you video taping his movie in a theater. Remember, this post is an analogy to make a point, not a direct comparison.

      As to feeding the world –
      – Without the current biotech traits cultivated around the world, additional plantings in excess of 22 million acres of core crops would have to be grown to maintain current global production levels. That’s 2 million acres more than the entire country of Ireland. Source (in the source the acreage amount is in hectares – I converted it for acres because ‘acres’ is more common in the US than hectares)

      – One out of seven people — about 15 percent — suffer chronically of not having enough to eat Source

      To address your point of people not wanting GMOs here is a story that I have always found enlightening:
      Greenpeace sued Thailand over GM Papaya (resistant to a virus). In a demonstration Greenpeace representatives dumped GM Papayas on the lawn of the Thailand ministry then onlookers mobbed the pile and ran off with the papaya. Here is a quote from one man: ”I’m not scared of GM papayas. Rather, I’m scared I won’t have any to eat,” said Ubon Ratchathani villager Ampon Tantima, 31, before rushing back to his car with the free fruit.
      Thailand: GM protest goes awry as passers-by grab fruit and run

      While, I know you disagree with our technology I feel that those who do want it should be allowed to have it. FYI – that Greenpeace case was thrown out.

      On a last note – when we last conversed on this blog I found your demeanor to be very polite and inquisitive and I am taken aback that you call us and myself stupid and liars. I am hoping this is just the result of a bad day or something of the like. If that’s the case, I hope tomorrow is more pleasant for you.

  9. Peter Says:

    A bit of a daft story. The problem is that people it to much meat, the high yield intensive agriculture is doomed, only think of all the fertilizier that is running of fields. And plants that are resistant against pesticides……. nah, it is a shortcut that a lot of people will regret taking.

  10. nony Says:

    the sophistic argument defending Monsanto has a brief validity, but…try stretching it to include their patenting a gene found in pigs going back a few thousand years. Monsanto is trying to sue for infringement against pig farmers who have been raising the same stock for a hundred years with absolutely no input from Monsanto. This facetious argument dissolves under scrutiny, and Monsanto’s true colors shine through.
    Why would anyone disapprove of Monsanto&Co if they were truly working for the best interests of the worlds food resources? something reeks, and it ain’t manure…

    and, as it’s already been said, if Food bombs this is a loss only affecting the investors. if Monsanto&Co’s ‘enhanced’ products have an unanticipated(?!) result then the whole world suffers. There is absolutely no reason to create terminator seeds except to protect property rights. This is a very shallow, selfish, greedy reason to play god with the worlds plant life, especially given the ancillary evidence suggesting at least the possibility of genetic drift…

    believe it or not, I firmly believe the future of food lies in GM foods, we’ve pretty much exhausted traditional methods. however, the continual obstruction of those that would thoroughly examine what we already have makes me very suspicious of the intentions of those doing the obstruction. Monsanto is guilty of spending millions in DC to stop all investigations, what are they trying to hide?

    • Kathleen Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Nony.

      Unfortunately you have been misinformed regarding our participation in the swine industry. It is inaccurate that we patented genes found in swine going back a few thousand years, we have not sued pig farmers over misuse of patents on genetics related to swine. Also, we have not owned a genetic breeding company since 2007. We wrote a blog post about it a few weeks back.

      Another important myth to point out is that terminator technology is used in Monsanto seed. We made a commitment to not use this technology and have never used it.

      I am happy that you are a supporter of biotech and believe it is a solution in the overall goal of ensuring everyone on this planet has food to eat. It seems that your only issues with the company are ones that don’t really exist, so I hope that this clears things up for you!

      Thank you again for reading the blog.

  11. Ewan Ross Says:

    Another (probably unneeded) note on patents on “life”:-

    As far as I am aware, the patents on “life” have to be non-obvious inventions, with a legally defined scope – companies do not simply hold a patent on a lifeform, or on a gene, but on a specific combination of gene + species gene is inserted into + the specific purpose to which this gene is inserted into the given organism.

    So for instance in the case of say, roundup ready genes the patent/s are for the insertion of the gene into various species (for a definitive list look up the patent) for a specific purpose (glyphosate resistance) – which in my mind falls well into the bounds of creative work.

    The investment that goes into any transgenic plant also, in my opinion, completely warrants the patentability of the technology – why invest $100M+ in the technology if there is no avenue to protect this investment? The very reason that patent laws were put in place was to allow inventors to reap the benefits of their inventions for a fixed period, in exchange for full disclosure of the invention to the world – allowing both advancement of knowledge and the ability to profit from ones own invention – the alternatives are absolute secrecy and scientific stagnation, or zero investment because whoever invents the technology is automatically at a disadvantage – they pay the cost of development and anyone can then utilize this invention without having to pay.

    Obviously to those ideologically opposed to GM technology in any form any erosion of patent law around living things is a good thing, however given the current, and potential benefits of the technology I believe it somewhat naive to oppose the patentability of GM technology.

    On the “central dogma behind biotechnology” that a single gene will affect a single trait – this is pretty much an invented dogma, pleiotropy has been understood for decades, some genes have far reaching effects which alter multiple phenotypic characteristics, other genes not so much – my (relatively limited)understanding is that there is a broad spectrum of gene activity from a direct gene to trait relationship through gene to few traits and gene to many traits – it all depends on the gene being utilized – there isnt really much reason to believe that a well defined enzyme which replaces another in a well defined pathway (as is the case with the roundup ready gene) will have unexpected pleiotropic effects (as far as I am aware there arent any in this case) because essentially you are substituting one gene product for another in instances where a substance which disrupts the replaced gene is applied. Neither is there, in my mind, reason to believe that completely unrelated genes which introduce totally novel proteins into a plant will neccessarily have pleiotropic effects – to do so a protein would generally have to have pretty specific interactions with other proteins or genes unlikely to occur by chance (but more likely to occur in gene/protein networks which have co-evolved for billions of years) – not completely impossible, but to my mind pretty unlikely. (I’d compare this scenario to Bt genes – proteins which come from species separated by billions of years)

    On the feeding the world arguement and utilizing food for fuels and other bio-synthetics – the problems are complex, the politics convoluted, and the distances involved multiply these issues – short of a complete restructuring of human society global crop production as a whole is not a meaningful way to look at how well we can feed a growing global population. Economic and political factors pretty much dictate that for the worst off the only viable long (or even mid) term solutions require the ability to produce food locally – something Monsanto and the scientific community in general are making efforts to help happen through tailored solutions to specific problems (drought tolerant crops, increased nutrient crops, specific agronomic practices for specific regions, better local hybrids etc) – the cost of moving the quantities of food required to distribute what is currently grown would be huge and not entirely financial (environmental effects of mass transport, effects on local farmers from an influx of food etc) – also keep in mind that given the threat of a massive energy crisis aswell as an ever increasing demand for consumer goods the western world absolutely needs to find better ways to meet these needs – cellulosic ethanol, bio-plastics etc offer a means to start down this path – personally I’d rather reduce our dependance on fossil fuels with this route, while enabling countries with food shortages to locally produce what they need, than burn more fuel to move food across continents making no real headway in either problem.

    The safety studies you mention have been covered previously on the blog – suffice to say that in no case have GM foods been proven to be of a real danger as compared to their non-GM counterparts – some “scientists” may claim that there are health issues relating to GMOs – however this is a claim that does not hold water unless you completely ignore the bulk of the scientific literature and instead put spin on insignificant differences and huge stock in poorly performed and generally unpublishable experiments. The broad scientific consensus is that all commercially available GMOs are as safe for consumption as their non GMO counterparts and that as new GMOs enter the marketplace they should undergo the same testing to ensure that this level of safety is maintained.

    (apologies for the length of this… I’ve been out of commission for 3 weeks and need to catch up on the debate =p)

  12. nony Says:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8002503.stm
    “The patent application was filed in 2005 by Monsanto, which sold its pig-breeding technology to another US biotech firm, Newsham Genetics, in 2007.
    In a statement, Monsanto said the sale “included any and all swine-related patents, patent applications, and all other intellectual property [relating to pigs]”.
    A spokesman for the EPO, Rainer Osterwalder, said the existing patent “is in force until there is a decision to revoke it”.”

    I stand corrected, is Newsham totally disconnected from Monsanto?

    “It’s a very broad patent. It would grant, if it’s accepted worldwide, would grant Monsanto control of a significant percentage of all the pigs in the world. And here’s what’s so critical. The patent isn’t just for the pigs. It’s for the pigs offspring. So mother nature works for Monsanto’s profit. Every time pigs naturally reproduce, that is a violation of the patent that you have to pay Monsanto for.”
    what I understand from having read up on this earlier is that M selected for a gene that exists ‘in the wild’ and proceeded to incorporate it into the genome of a separate breed. Then they patented the results as if they invented the gene to begin with. This has the repercussions of patent control of all pigs with this gene, regardless of where the gene came from.
    delete M. in this case, it still appears to be an abominable use of patent law…and M is guilty of the attempt, whether they sold it or not. I’m curious what the technology was sold for, and where M’s business ethics stand on this situation for the future…isn’t this the same slope companies are on as they try to patent unique genes found in humans as well? Where does the profit motive fit? What is common use for everyone. and why does M deem it necessary to spend so much on lobbying efforts to get their patents approved?

    I also read, too late, about the choice not to use terminator seeds,(thank god, but the genie is out of the bottle, what a weapon of war!) this one is still alive and well on the ‘tubes. also, reading about papayas in Thailand, is this the same splicing used to save Hawai’i’s crop? you have my gratitude, however the harassment towards the spread of the seed is misplaced, what else does M. expect people to do? these are difficult decisions, food is different…in this vein I hope that research is progressing rapidly to counter the strain of wheat rust virus that seems to be the next bug-a-boo. Unfortunately it appears that government has abrogated their responsibilities and universities seem to be running behind the curve, leaving it up to private for-profit companies to come up with solutions. how to weigh profit motive vs. public good?

    sorry for the length, I just found this blog. I am stuffed full of anti-M rhetoric and it will take some time to read through what’s available here. It won’t be an easy sell, but a different perspective is refreshing. I have noticed that a long list of grievances, including dumping pcbs, mercury and other toxins went unanswered, do you have a separate section dedicated to responding to M’s blemished past?

  13. nony Says:

    as a suggestion, it would be useful to have the ability to delete for a short period. if for nothing else, punctuation. I’ve wandered a bit through this blog, is there a suggestion box?
    another useful addition would be an index so the same questions needn’t be addressed endlessly. I’ve noticed several repeats, this is bound to get tiresome for the bloggers as they will want to move on. a sort of fluid FAQs…as the knowledge of this site gains traction I’m sure that this problem will only get worse.

    anyway, apologies for the double post, if it happens. you’ll notice the time gap, awaiting moderation for six hours?

    PS. reading on the articles in ‘for the record’ is an eye-opener. good to get info from the horses mouth, hope to address some of the spin from both sides with y’all sometimes soon. I’m quite interested in the procedures M used to get ‘substantially similar’ ratings for their various products. also the fine print in the labeling requirements, some interesting politics involved and I hope M bloggers are forthright in this discussion…

  14. the-god Says:

    very compelling arguments, but here is one no one wants to hear. people need to die. why are we trying to feed overpopulation? why do we keep coming out with ways to save people who shouldnt be around with extra food and pills? doctors arent curing sickness, just symptoms. no one is letting their bodies do the healing. which means the diseases are being dispersed through more people. this is the same with crops. we are the ones creating more viruses, bacteria, and super weeds by trying to modify everything. since we have so much food already, people feel the need to keep over-reproducing. and if you have genetic diseases, stop spreading them to future generations. listen to nature more. the super weeds are being created through all the new pesticide spraying, which is what gmo’s are really designed for. so we have to keep coming up with new pesticides, new pills, and new seeds. lets stop it now and let nature take its course.

  15. r Says:

    Hey,

    here’s a tip. Why don’t you try to acknowledge that people aren’t so stupid as to take anything you say at face value. The interest in your company is fuelled by the secrecy and evasiveness you routinely display. It makes one rather sick. Me, I’m just grateful to be living in the EU.

    To take your comparison seriously for a moment — I don’t see production houses tracking and SUING ME for repeatedly watching a movie, showing it to my friends, talking about it and researching it, screening it to a group with permission, borrowing it to a friend who forgets to return it, etc etc. Or, hell, even eating it.

  16. Carey Michelle Says:

    Well, it may be true that no farmer has lost organic certification due to contamination, but I know farmers (personally from living in Hawaii) who have lost their crops! That means money out of their pockets. 50% of the Hawaiian papaya on Oahu is contaminated with Monsanto’s GMOs. The locals won’t eat it, and neither will consumers in Japan or the EU. They get their papaya from the Caribbean now, and Hawaiian papaya farmers are now growing other crops.

    As far as the pledge not to use the terminator technology goes, from what I have read and heard from certain attorneys who follow the company’s goings on, the terminator genes are already being grown in test plots. I was under the impression that the technology is not supposed to be commercialized, but that does not mean they are not already growing in fields somewhere, which would mean that they could possibly contaminate closely related species nearby. Are you saying that there are no GURT crops being grown currently in test plots anywhere, because that would be a load off of my mind?

    Could someone please give me an example of these drough-tolerant, nutrient-enhanced crops that are on the market? I was under the impression that the only commercialized GMOs were herbicide and pesticide resistant or in the case of the Hawaiian papaya (which all but ended the export market in Hawaii for the fruit) resistant to the ringspot virus (the widescale spread of which can be prevented by using the polyculture method without the expense of GM technology, which is what Hawaiian growers have done for centuries). I was under the impression that after 20 years of agricultural biotechnology that there is still not one GMO crop being used today (commercially) that have those traits. It seems that after 20 years there should be more out there for consumers and those in need of food. Perhaps your company should consider planting some of those awesome drought-tolerant crops on Molokai, that way it won’t need to steal the water from the Native Hawaiian homesteaders for whom it has been reserved. (I posted a link to this story previously as well; no one responded).

    Kate, I don’t know if you missed the majority of my blogs from earlier this year, but all of them contain some sort of statement that Monsanto cannot be trusted because of all the lies (the company lied about the fact that MON863 was their crop, lied about the biodegradability of Roundup and was charged with false advertising in New York in 1996 and France more recently). I wrote about all this in previous posts and included links. No one wanted to respond to the allegations, which is why I stopped visiting the blog. And I do think that the “analogy” is a bad comparison, even a stupid one (but I never called anyone stupid, just the weak analogy). Ad Hominem attacks are much more Monsanto’s style than mine. The dictionary gives comparison as a synonym for analogy, so I don’t really see the difference. The system Monsanto uses has been reported to be unethical and destructive (to the land, to farmers, and to consumers). The system Magnolia uses does not appear to be hurting anyone. At least I have not seen any expose articles about it like the one about Monsanto in Vanity Fair, I believe it is called “Harvest of Fear.” It details how one of your many “investigators” went into a man’s country store accusing him of stealing your technology (very loudly in front of all the man’s customers in his small-town store)without adequate evidence and with no apology once the company found that the man was actually innocent.

    Maybe if the company stopped spending millions to prevent the labeling of GMOs, consumers would take the company’s word (and from what I have read, most of the “scientists” who say GMOs are not a health risk are taking money from the company in one way or another) that these “foods” are ok. The “scientists” you belittle in your post, Ewan, (you really are the most arrogant of all the posters here) were hired by FDA to test for the safety of these organisms. If you don’t have faith in the “scientists” at FDA, I guess we consumers should ignore the fact that Michael Taylor (an FDA commissioner who everyone knows was an attorney, not a “scientist” for Monsanto before being given a special position at the agency) stated they should be considered equivalent to normal foods or GRAS. This makes no sense to me because on the one hand the company is saying, well, it is very different, so we need to patent it, but on the other hand it is saying it is the same, so we don’t need regulations. Make up your minds! You can’t have it both ways (forever).

    Another “scientist” who believes that GMOs are dangerous, Arapd Puztai, was commissioned by the government and given a grant to set the safety protocol for GMO foods in Europe. Why was he chosen and given millions of dollars for research if he was not reputable and actually at the top of his field? He was also a believer in the technology until he really started looking at the effects of it. It is funny you mention poorly performed studies, because from what I have seen, it is Monsanto that does that kind of “research!”

    • Kate Says:

      Carey,

      Thank you again for your comment. I still remember having a pleasant exchange with you in the past I am sorry that you have felt attacked in the past.

      You mention that we (and by association, I) cannot be trusted. Despite your beliefs I will still answer your questions, in the hopes that I might take a load off your mind.

      As far as I am aware, there are not a terminator technology being grown by us anywhere.

      To answer your question about drought-tolerant, nutrient-enhanced crops I must remind you that it takes about 6-12 years to bring a new trait to market. I am convinced that you would not be in favor of bypassing safety testing and field trials – that would be irresponible. If you’d like to under how products move through the pipeline there is a good illustration here: Monsanto R&D Pipeline. As to drought tolerance: Monsanto, BASF Scientists Disclose Discovery of Gene Conferring Drought Tolerance in Corn Plants.

      As to papaya in Hawaii I went back to look at the link you mentioned. Assuming I found the correct comment (I apologize if I am referencing the wrong comment) you posted an article from the Honolulu Advertiser from 2006. I looked up some more current articles that suggest papaya production is up.
      Fresh Plaze: Hawaii: March papaya harvest up from ’07
      6/2/2008
      Hawai’i’s fresh papaya production totaled 2.5 million pounds in March, down 7 percent from February, but up 7 percent from March 2007, according to the local office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. More than half of the March harvest — 1.3 million pounds — was shipped out of state.

      China Daily: As starvation looms, it’s time to take GM seriously
      6/11/2008
      It transpires that the stunted trees on the right, each bearing only a handful of fruit, are victims of papaya ringspot virus, a disease that devastates yields and is endemic in Hawaii. By contrast, the papaya trees in the other row, on the left, are healthy and disease-free, because they have been genetically modified (GM) to resist ringspot.

      AP: Hawaii hangs on to its sugar heritage, barely
      10/05/2008
      With the demise of sugar and pineapple, Hawaii’s agriculture industry has remained stable over the years, buoyed by the growth of macadamia nuts, papayas, coffee and tropical flowers.

      Triangle Business Journal: Hawaii farms brought in $579.1M in 2007
      1/12/2009
      Papaya revenues were up 19 percent due to increased production and increased prices.

      As to John’s post – you are of course entitled to your own opinion – if you do not find merit in his post then that is fine. Myself, I found it clever and insightful. However, neither of our opinions makes John’s point right or wrong.

      To clarify your last point. As far as our products are concerned our seeds are the premium product. The foods and fibers from these seeds are equivalent to their non-GM counterpoints. There is no reason to label something that is exactly the same. You may write a book on a typewriter, or you might write one on a laptop – the resulting content is the same but the process to get there is different.

      I apologize for stating that you called us stupid. I assumed that calling someone’s work stupid indirectly applied that label to the producer of that work. I am sorry to have insinuated such if this was not your intent.

      Again, I hope you are well.

      Kate

  17. John Q Says:

    Nony, thank you for being willing to be “educated” on the “facts” here, and keeping an open enough mind to process some of what Monsanto has to say, even if you choose take it with a grain of salt. Some of the other readers here are not so generous. ;^)

    I think the idea of a blog “index” is a good one. At least some place where one can view a list of the blog titles. The place to suggest this would be: http://blog.monsantoblog.com/monsanto-according-to-monsanto/suggestion-box/

    As for the time delay of moderation, I’ve found that to be pretty hit-or-miss as well. But I have never seen anything totally dropped, if I have “enough” patience.

    As for punctuation, if I am posting something of any length, I edit off-line in MS Word, which spell- and punctuation-checks for me, and also saves back-up files, which a browser crash won’t do.

    So, welcome to the blog, and thanks for your contributions.

    • Kathleen Says:

      Thanks, John. Nony, our approval processes are done by hand and as the person who approves comments, sometimes I am out of the office for longer periods of time, such as yesterday. I apologize for your delay, but I can guarantee your comment will be approved within 24 hours on any given workday. And we have an index of articles for the blog in our archive, but I have been toying with an FAQ section, as many of the same questions are asked frequently.

  18. John Q Says:

    Carey, nearly every one of your points has been addressed in some other blog here on this site.

    For example, water on Molokia was addressed in http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/18/drought-and-biotech/, with my own specific comment at http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/03/18/drought-and-biotech/#comment-987.

    The “work” of Dr. Puztai was addressed on http://blog.monsantoblog.com/2009/05/19/food-safety-gm-foods/.

    As for drought-tolerant, nutrient-enhanced crops, I believe the words Ewan used were “Monsanto and the scientific community in general are making efforts to help happen”, implying this is in the future. And one of the reasons these technologies are not currently in production is the level of testing and regulation you call for. Similarly, Monsanto is asked to pay for the tests of its crops, rather than having the public pay for that testing, so one cannot then turn around and complain that the testers are being funded by Monsanto.

    Those are all of your allegations that I am willing to address here. Most of your allegations are not Intellectual Property related, so perhaps you would get a better response if you made them in blogs they are related to. Or at least make them in different posts, rather than one big monolithic post. That would make me, at least, more inclined to read them.

    But thank you for your willingness to participate in this debate!

  19. John Q Says:

    Kathleen, thanks for the correction! I have to admit I’ve been here “a long time now”, and I’ve never noticed the “Archive” link in middle of the green bar at the top!

    Can I suggest moving it to a more prominent position, like near the top of the right column, or doing something to highlight it?

    Also, I’m not sure what the purpose of the “Search” function at the top is, since I didn’t get any hits for “Molokai” or “Puztai”, and searching for “Safe” got me “What Do Monsanto and Food, Inc. Have in Common? Intellectual Property” and “Customer Ops to Defending Our Crops” but not “How Safe is Your Food?”

    Or should I move these comments over to the “Suggestions” page?

    Oh, and thanks for the three-minute moderation response! ;^)

  20. Ewan Ross Says:

    Casey – If scientists hired by the FDA had found clear scientific evidence of real health problems caused by GM foods then surely GM foods would not be commercially available. I do have faith in the work of FDA scientists. I do not have faith in “science” which is not peer reviewed (our published safety data has gone through this process) which appears to be the mainstay of anyone arguing from a scientific stance that GMOs pose a health risk.

    As stated above – drought tolerance is coming soon. Improved nutrition in crops is something that the global scientific community at large is working incredibly hard to get going (projects I am aware of through personal experience are efforts at the Danforth Plant science center to increase micronutrient levels and protein levels in cassava) – these transgenic solutions are thigns coming soon – the better agronomic practices and better hybrids are things being implemented right now, both by Monsanto (browse the blogs a little for the posts by “michelle india” to see what we’re doing there – also Monsanto’s work in producing hybrids tends to be overlooked due to the controversy over GM tech, as approximately 50%(I think) of our R&D spend goes towards hybrid improvement and the development of specific hybrids for specific locations – our breeding organization is the bedrock on which any of our GM improvements truly shine) and academics/agronomists globally.

  21. Jason Says:

    The problem with the argument of this post, and I struggle to maintain politeness here, is that to get an unauthorized movie, you have actively reach out for it, and you know what you’re getting. The wind doesn’t blow unauthorized movies into my DVD player, and it when I get a movie at netflix, I know I’m getting a valid movie, not an unlabeled one that could be something else. With GM crops, drift does occur, and at the store, GM foods are not labeled, so I don’t always know what I’m getting.

    Kate admits pollen drift occurs. She suggests it’s minimal, but any amount is unacceptable to those like myself who don’t want any GE foods. Monsanto itself accepts this liability when it pays farmers for the cost of removing Monsanto’s GE crops that have drifted onto fields, as they did with Percy Schmeiser (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/03/20/7784).

    I found this site from a comment someone posted in response to a review of Food Inc on Fresh Air on NPR. Personally, I’m just happy that more and more things like Food Inc are getting out there.

  22. Jason Says:

    Correction: I should say that Monsanto DOESN’T “admit liability,” when they pay farmers for the cost of removing Monsanto’s GE crops that have drifted onto fields. Especially if you agree not to talk about it.

  23. Ewan Ross Says:

    Jason – in terms of intellectual property the arguement still holds – nobody is going to be sued for patent infringement unless there is a clear deliberate violation of the patent (such as in the case of Percy Schmeisser)

    In terms of objection to any GM material whatsoever finding its way into the food chain by pollen drift the arguement is however completely different and more complex (with a range of acceptable values ranging from absolutely zero through various percentages (I personally dont care to what extent my food is GM or not, so pollen drift in this respect is not something that worries me)

  24. Jason Says:

    From the second court case:

    xxxxxxxxxx

    “[18] The uncontradicted evidence of Mr. Schmeiser was that he has never purchased Roundup Ready Canola and has never signed a TUA relating to Roundup Ready Canola. Monsanto had initially alleged that Mr. Schmeiser had somehow acquired Roundup Ready Canola in 1997 but that allegation was withdrawn along with all claims of infringement with respect to Mr. Schmeiser’s 1997 canola crop.”

    Also:

    “[56]There is considerable force to the argument that it would be unfair to grant Monsanto a remedy for infringement where volunteer Roundup Ready Canola grows in a farmer’s field but its resistance to glyphosate remains unknown, or if that characteristic becomes apparent but the seeds of the volunteer plants are not retained for cultivation. . . .

    “[57]However, it seems to me arguable that the patented Monsanto gene falls into a novel category. It is a patented invention found within a living plant that may, without human intervention, produce progeny containing the same invention. It is undisputed that a plant containing the Monsanto gene may come fortuitously onto the property of a person who has no reason to be aware of the presence of the characteristic created by the patented gene. It is also reasonable to suppose that the person could become aware that the plant has that characteristic but may tolerate the continued presence of the plant without doing anything to cause or promote the propagation of the plant or its progeny (by saving and planting the seeds, for example). In my view, it is an open question whether Monsanto could, in such circumstances, obtain a remedy for infringement on the basis that the intention of the alleged infringer is irrelevant. However, that question does not need to be resolved in this case.

    “[58] In this case, Mr. Schmeiser cultivated glyphosate resistant canola plants. His 1998 canola crop was mostly glyphosate resistant, and it came from seed that Mr. Schmeiser had saved from his own fields and the adjacent road allowances in 1997. Although the Trial Judge did not find that Mr. Schmeiser played any part initially in causing those glyphosate resistant canola plants to grow in 1997, the Trial Judge found as a fact, on the basis of ample evidence, that Mr. Schmeiser knew or should have known that those plants were glyphosate resistant when he saved their seeds in 1997 and planted those seeds the following year. It was the cultivation, harvest and sale of the 1998 crop in those circumstances that made Mr. Schmeiser vulnerable to Monsanto’s infringement claim.”

    From the third court case:

    “6 Schmeiser never purchased Roundup Ready Canola nor did he obtain a licence to plant it. Yet, in 1998, tests revealed that 95 to 98 percent of his 1,000 acres of canola crop was made up of Roundup Ready plants. The origin of the plants is unclear. They may have been derived from Roundup Ready seed that blew onto or near Schmeiser’s land, and was then collected from plants that survived after Schmeiser sprayed Roundup herbicide around the power poles and in the ditches along the roadway bordering four of his fields. The fact that these plants survived the spraying indicated that they contained the patented gene and cell.”

    So I understand that because Schmeiser knowingly saved, grew and sold Roundup Ready Canonla that grew on his land, even though he never originally purchased it, which is uncontested, he infringed.

    I understand that Monsanto takes measures to try to control the uncontrolled spread of its seed, but “It is undisputed that a plant containing the Monsanto gene may come fortuitously onto the property of a person who has no reason to be aware of the presence of the characteristic created by the patented gene.”

    And that is the bottom line issue: some of us object to GM material, and it is impossible to completely control. If a farmer never sprays Roundup or tests his plants, he will spread it. Ewan’s last paragraph above is entirely correct, but I and a lot of people DO care to what extent my food is GM or not.

  25. Brandon Says:

    I read one of the previous comments about letting nature take its course and also about a publicly or gov’t run soln to the food crisis. I took the latter as meaning to let the gov’t instead of private companies develop food (whether gmo or non). I would just like to point out why that would be a bad idea and some points why gmo’s are not bad and why there’s nothing wrong with organic and why patents should be allowed.

    Patents protect investments and allows for innovation… without patents there would be little innovation, furthermore, public universities do patent seed if its novel.

    Gov’t-run industries would raise taxes, probably provide little innovation, but most importantly esp. to the slow food movement (organic farmers) you’d have a highly centralized ag. system with the gov’t at the helms.
    -loss of jobs
    -increased taxes
    -highly centralized… monoculture (?)
    -possible mishandling of situations e.g. the black plague, the Great Leap Forward, famine in India, current famines in Africa all were/are mishandlings by the gov’t

    Plus things, innovations, become politically driven instead of profit driven… which is better? Drawing from the movie parallel, the more profit you generate the better the movie and the more movies (sequels) you can make. How do movies make that profit…? through sales to the consumer. The same with Monsanto and other companies, the more profit the more innovations that can be made; and remember Monsanto and other companies only make profit if their “stuff” works and consumers (farmers) want to buy more. So why would Monsanto be out to get the little guy, the farmer, when without the farm there is no more product? Whereas, politically driven opens a whole new can of worms… I’d also ask how accurate would the regulatory depts. (FDA and USDA) in their testing of the new gov’t crops being that they would be in the same organization, the gov’t. There are a lot of questions to ask in this realm but just remember in the US gov’t run programs like Medicare/cad and social insecurity (oops security, I mean) are floundering. How would a gov’t run food industry run and what would happen to rural America.

    Finally, GMOs are good… they are the most rigoursly tested of all food/commodity crops and even one adverse reaction kicks it out; and as was mentioned before scientists who run the tests in the FDA and USDA are paid by Monsanto and other seed companies not to push their seed and traits through regulatory but they have to pay for their own tests (as was mentioned above). Also, someone said that there is enough food its just a matter of distribution, whether or not that is true I am unaware of, but I doubt that and really doubt that in the next 30 to 40 yrs but what will happen when a new virus or bacteria causes the next black plague and we’re not prepared for it? That’s why its good to have patents and competition in the private sector where competing companies use innovation and invention to help ensure our food supply and that we will be able to feed the growing population. But there’s room for organic too, it’s just not the solution to feed the growing world… you can’t buy everything grow or buy everything local some areas of the world can’t grow everything and don’t have the knowledge of proper soil management and good husbandry practices.

  26. Brandon Says:

    Jason said… “And that is the bottom line issue: some of us object to GM material,…”

    What about defect levels in food… rodent hairs, bug parts, excessive chemicals, etc. this is allowable in your food yet GM technology is not?

    “The FDA set these action levels because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects. Products harmful to consumers are subject to regulatory action whether or not they exceed the action levels.” also “As technology improves, the FDA may review and change defect action levels on this list.”
    http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/Sanitation/ucm056174.htm

    You have no tolerance for GM (which is fine) but tolerance for food defects… I think technology should be protected and patented so that we can get away from some of the allowable defects.

    Look at this testing for wheat and other cereal grains and the allowable insect level damage

    http://www.fda.gov/Food/ScienceResearch/LaboratoryMethods/MacroanalyticalProceduresManualMPM/ucm084337.htm#v-15

    we can improve and keep yields up and produce more on less by allowing patents and competition and being more reasonable and civil with each other… Food Inc. and its supporters have a staunced and one-sided view… most in the biotech industry have a two-sided view and realize not one shoe fits all and that the ag of tomorrow will not only be a science but an art.

  27. Brandon Says:

    It just occurred to me that I said black plague in my first post. What I meant to say was the potato famine (sorry for the goof).

    Also, the two previous posts were my logical reasoning on the subject, so please feel free to provide evidence as proof, via sources, that would show me thinking is flawed in this matter. Thanks.

  28. Heather Says:

    Defending intellectual property is NOT the point of this movie. The point is that greedy corporations, like Monsanto, have destroyed the American diet and our health. The producers of this film want consumers to see the movie and spread the word about our failing food system. To suggest the makers of this movie have anything in common with Monsanto is not just wrong, but down right insulting.

  29. John Q Says:

    Heather said:

    “The producers of this film want consumers to see the movie and spread the word about [WHAT IN THEIR OPINION IS] our failing food system.”

    I fixed this for you.

    Also, I’d like to not support the producers of this film monetarily. Can you make a copy of the movie and send it to me, so I can be “informed”. OR better yet, post it on the Internet, so everyone who can’t afford a movie ticket or doesn’t have access to a theatre can still be enlightened.

    Make no mistake, the producers of this film are first and foremost interested in making a profit, just like Monsanto is. If their motives were REALLY as altruistic as you claim, they would have released it on the Internet themselves.

  30. Ron Says:

    Your whole operation is CRIMINAL. If you don’t think so, why do YOU push for GMO labeling on your so called “food” products?

  31. John Q Says:

    And labeling will somehow make it “un-criminal”?
    Or are you saying labeling will somehow EXPOSE it as “criminal”? Either way, I don’t follow your logic.

  32. LKMiller Says:

    Heather,

    Please provide proof, other than your fanatical ranting, that “greedy corporations, like Monsanto, have destroyed the American diet and our health.”

    Americans have the broadest range of foods available to them than any other country. That some choose to either eat fatty hamburgers, greasy french fries, and gallons of “soft drinks,” or make destructive lifestyle choices such as drug/alcohol abuse, not living in a 2 parent home (the single most important factor in negative health impacts on children), and smoking, it is not the fault of Monsanto.

    Whatever happened to personal responsibility in this country?

  33. Ewan Ross Says:

    Heather – while defending intellectual property may not be the point of the movie (and here I’ll point out I still havent seen it, so this is based entirely on the few postings about the movie I have read) it does appear that one of the bones of contention the makers wished to raise with/about Monsanto was exactly that – intellectual property rights – with their highly skewed representation of a seed cleaner who was sued for violating Monsanto’s IP rights.

    From other posters sentiment on the blogs it is clear that the picture painted by the moviemakers lends a lot of sympathy to this cause – I believe that one poster commented that they believed all watching this segment would be happy to contribute to the legal costs incurred by the seed cleaner. However if you take the time to read the actual court decision on the trial (its on the blogs somewhere) it is hard to see how anybody could side with a guy who essentially tricked farmers into a legally dubious position by informing them that it was their legal right to replant patented material.

    Monsanto’s point being that if someone were to infringe upon the moviemakers IP rights they would go ahead and take legal action, exactly as Monsanto did (although I’m not aware of any settlements in the movie industry where pirates or those associated with piracy of recorded material have their fines waived on the condition they not do it again)

  34. John Says:

    You are part of the blog writing team at Monsanto and you may not see this movie? But you are already writing a defense? Just ridiculous.

    “If I choose to see it, I’ll purchase a ticket at the movie theater or maybe wait to order it on Netflix. “

  35. Colby Says:

    John at 2:12 p.m. (above) – You criticize the author for not seeing the movie when his blog is NOT about movie particulars, but rather the concept of intellectual property? Ridiculous.

  36. John Q Says:

    Most Recent John:

    You missed the point of the contrast the Original Poster (OP) was trying to make, because you left out the rest of the paragraph:

    “I won’t download a bootlegged copy from an Internet file-sharing program or order a black-market copy on eBay – that would be stealing. How do I know? Because movie disclaimers tell me so:”

    The point the OP was trying to emphasize is, the movie badmouths Monsanto (in part) for trying to protect Monsanto’s intellectual property from farmers who would STEAL it. But then the movie producers include language intended to protect the PRODUCERS’ intellectual property from movie pirates hat would steal the movie.

    My interpretation of this part of the OP’s post is, he was trying to show the hypocrisy of the movie.

    Now, add in the fact that the post was written the week the movie came out, and the fact that it appears to be a slanted story that the OP might not want to financially support, and his statement seems pretty reasonable to me.


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