Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Save our Seeds (SOS), two organizations dedicated to promoting safe, sustainable food and farming systems, challenged the agrochemical giant Monsanto and its restrictive “seed saving” policies via a “friend of the court” brief filed in the forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, Bowman v. Monsanto. The case involves Monsanto’s prosecution of 75-year-old Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman for alleged patent infringement because he saved and replanted his soybean seeds rather than purchasing new seeds for planting. The filing lays out a legal framework for why the Supreme Court should safeguard seeds as a public good, confirming the right of Bowman and all farmers to save seeds.

As the brief notes, farmers have saved their seed for millennia. However, comprehensive seed patent rights granted to a few large agrochemical corporations over the last few decades are destructive to farmers, agriculture as an industry, food security and consumer health and safety. The Bowman case represents the mounting trend of seed and agrochemical companies investigating and prosecuting farmers for alleged patent infringement.

Reports by both groups show that today’s patent and intellectual property (IP) rights systems have allowed for unprecedented consolidation of global seed supply. At present, four agrochemical companies own a full 43 percent of the world’s commercial seed supply. Further research shows even broader socio-economic consequences due to the IP regimes that have developed over the past few decades. These include skyrocketing seed prices, decreasing seed varieties and availability of seeds, and a constriction of seed research and development.

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(Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director)
“Yesterday [November 19th], the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report produced by the USDA Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture, also known as AC21. This committee met for over a year with the task of designing a compensation mechanism for farmers who are economically harmed by contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. The recommendations in the final report, released yesterday, completely miss the mark by putting forth an insurance compensation mechanism that would put the financial burden of contamination on organic and non-GE farmers, while letting the patent-holding biotechnology companies that create this technology avoid their responsibility.
“It is outrageous that those being most harmed by GE contamination are the ones that would be responsible for paying into an insurance program outlined in the report. The liable party for contamination should be the patent holder of the gene technology, not the farmer who grows its seed. The companies that profit from the technology should develop a fund from which contaminated farmers can be compensated. Yet during the committee’s meetings, there was virtually no discussion about the idea of a patent-holder funded compensation fund.

“Aside from the fact that organic and non-GE growers should not be responsible for their harm from GE contamination, there are growing concerns that a crop insurance mechanism is not feasible for organic growers. Often, organic growers are reimbursed for losses at conventional prices, instead of receiving the premium associated with their specialized production, and others do not even have access to crop insurance because there is less risk data associated with these crops.

“The report also recommends ‘joint coexistence plans’ between GE and non-GE farmers and suggests farmers who enter into the plans would get a reduced insurance premium. This would result in an uneven distribution of benefits, since organic and non-GE farmers would already be paying for most of the farm-level preventative measures to attempt to protect themselves from contamination, in addition to paying for extra insurance.

“The AC21 committee’s final recommendations will simply perpetuate the status quo, allowing GE gene flow to continue and farmers harmed by contamination to continue to pay for economic losses suffered from a technology they do not want or use. Instead of favoring the biotech industry, a more equitable solution for the growing problem of genetic contamination would be for the USDA to enact a moratorium on GE crop approvals until the agency develops a stronger stance on preventing contamination.”

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Leading environmental and anti-hunger organizations, including Environmental Working Group (EWG), Clean Air Task Force and ActionAid USA, said that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to waive the federal ethanol fuel mandate in response to the worst drought in 50 years is a blow to livestock producers, dairy farmers and consumers alike.

The groups issued the following statement on the EPA denial of requests by the governors of Arkansas and North Carolina to waive the ethanol mandate, noting that corn prices are at all-time highs:

“We are disappointed with EPA’s decision to deny relief for those who need it most. High corn prices have put enormous pressure on livestock producers, dairy farmers and consumers, as well as the environment. While Americans struggle to stay afloat and put food on their tables, more than 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop is being used to make ethanol—a result of the requirements of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.

“This decision should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the White House that the Renewable Fuel Standard does not protect producers and consumers in times of hardship and must be reformed. Its reliance on mandates for food-based fuel—namely corn ethanol—exposes us to spiking prices whenever yields drop because of drought or other severe weather. The skyrocketing cost of animal feed will force 100 of California’s dairies out of business by year’s end. Overall food prices are expected to rise by as much as 4 percent in the coming months, with even greater increases for meat, poultry, milk and eggs. These mandates have also spurred the conversion of 23 million acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands and grasslands—an area the size of Indiana—to row crops, mostly corn.

“In order to stem further damage, we urge that lawmakers in Congress consider a responsible phase-out of the corn ethanol mandate. No amount of tinkering can substitute for the impact of real reform.”

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