Monday, May 13, 2013

Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Decision In Favor Of Monsanto In GM Soybean Case

Associate Justice Elena Kagan writes the opinion and shuts down Indiana farmer's "blame-the-bean defense"...
The US Supreme Court on Monday issued a unanimous decision in favor of Monsanto in the case of Bowman vs. Mosanto.  In an opinion written by President Obama's appointee, Associate Justice Elena Kagan, the High Court offered a victory for Monsanto and other genetically modified seed producers, ruling that they can prohibit farmers from growing a second crop from their patented seeds.

The Court found that "patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without the patent holder’s permission."

The much-watched case was argued before the Court in February of this year, and covered patent infringement on Monsanto's genetically engineered, pesticide-resistant Round Up Ready soybean seeds by 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman.  

Over a period of eight years, Bowman would plant Monsanto seeds for his first crop of the year, then purchase soybeans from a local grain elevator that were a mix of Monsanto seeds gleaned from nearby fields for his second planting, rather than pay Monsanto's premium price for seeds.

Monsanto sued after discovering the practice, and a federal district court agreed with the company, and awarded $84,456 in damages.  During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Bowman and his lawyer cited the doctrine of "patent exhaustion," by which companies with some patents can benefit from only one sale.  

Bowman argued that he did not violate the seed giant's patent because Monsanto's soybeans are "self replicating."

"We think that blame-the-bean defense tough to credit," Kagan wrote in the unanimous decision.

"Bowman was not a passive observer of his soybeans’ multiplication; or put another way, the seeds he purchased (miraculous though they might be in other respects) did not spontaneously create eight successive soybean crops."

She added that "Bowman devised and executed a novel way to harvest crops from Roundup Ready seeds without paying the usual premium."

Because Bowman knew what he was doing, the doctrine of "patent exhaustion" did not apply, Kagan said.

"Bowman planted Monsanto’s patented seeds solely to make and market replicas of them, thus depriving the company of the reward patent law provides from the sale of each article," Kagan wrote.

"Patent exhaustion provides no haven for that conduct."

The case has wider implications for intellectual property rights and "self replicating" products, but Kagan advised that the unanimous ruling only concerned the case of soybeans, "rather than every one involving a self-replicating product."

Environmental Working Group's General Counsel Thomas Cluderay issued the following statement in response to the decision:

"The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today in the Bowman vs. Monsanto case tightens the seed giant’s stranglehold on American agriculture," Cluderay said.  

"It will no doubt pave the way for greater use and development of genetically engineered seed products and use of toxic pesticides, such as Roundup, on our farm fields. This is yet another reason why we need clear labeling of GE foods so that consumers can make better choices when buying food for themselves and their families."

Scott Faber, Executive Director of the national Just Label It campaign for genetically engineered foods, also blasted the decision.

"Today's ruling should serve as a reminder that Americans still don't know whether they're feeding their families food made with GE ingredients - unlike consumers in 64 other nations," Faber said. 

"Americans deserve the right to know what we're eating and feeding our families."

 Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, also issued a statement deriding the decision.

"This decision is a setback for the nation’s farmers," Kimbrell said.  "The Court chose to protect Monsanto over farmers.  The Court’s ruling is contrary to logic and to agronomics, because it improperly attributes seeds’ reproduction to farmers, rather than nature."