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  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    09.13.2013
    @Rickinreallife,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I assumed my questions would be ignored after your Monsanto colleague Ms Henggler announced in this thread that this PR project employs no full-time staff, described the project’s web architecture as “irritating”, and recommended an external website which states there’s no way of knowing whether or not Monsanto owns Blackwater mercenary group.

    Nevertheless, thank you for taking a fascinating side-turn into my questions on the Monsanto vs Bowman court case. I was particularly interested by your comment:

    >“Mr. Bowman… purchased beans from the elevator with the expectation that most would be [Monsanto] since most soy planted and harvested in the area was produced from roundup ready seed.”

    Now, this is intriguing. If I understand you correctly:

    1. When the majority of farmers in a given geographical area have begun using use Monsanto seeds, all of the traditional elevator-based seed-sellers in the area will inevitably find themselves (illegally) selling Monsanto-copyright seeds, thus making this traditional activity itself illegal.

    2. Traditional elevator-based seed sales systems literally cannot continue to legally exist in Monsanto-dominated areas, due to the level of GMO cross-contamination.

    3. Rather than actively shut down all these traditional businesses (which would be very bad publicity), Monsanto sues individual farmers who dare to continue using them.

    Do please let me know if I’ve misunderstood anything there.

    Finally, let’s assume for a moment that you are correct that Mr Bowman knowingly purchased seeds on the open market which he reasonably expected to be Monsanto-copyright seeds, usable only with Roundup chemicals. This raises an interesting hypothetical question:

    If – hypothetically, but highly realistically given the low-infrastructure African countries into which you are presently expanding - a farmer UNKNOWINGLY purchases such seeds on the open market, and later discovers that they are Monsanto seeds which can only be properly grown with Roundup, it would appear that if he wants to stay within the law, his options are as follows:

    (a) destroy his crops;
    (b) destroy his crops; or
    (c) destroy his crops

    Is there another option I’ve missed here?
    • Community Manager's picture
      Community Manager
      06.23.2014
      Hi Seed Serf and Rickinreallife -- thanks for contributing to the discussion! As always, please feel free to ask any additional questions you may have at http://www.gmoanswers.com.ask.
    • Rickinreallife's picture
      Rickinreallife
      06.18.2014
      Seed Serf asked: " If – hypothetically, but highly realistically given the low-infrastructure African countries into which you are presently expanding - a farmer UNKNOWINGLY purchases such seeds on the open market, and later discovers that they are Monsanto seeds which can only be properly grown with Roundup, it would appear that if he wants to stay within the law, his options are as follows: (a) destroy his crops; (b) destroy his crops; or (c) destroy his crops

      First, I am not sure what you mean by seeds which can only properly be grown with Roundup. No Roundup Ready seed requires roundup to grow. RR only allows you to apply roundup to eliminate weeds during the growing season without damaging the crop. If you plant RR seeds but never spray roundup, the crop will still grow and produce normally. If you had no weeds to worry about, or you did not intend to manage weeds through growing season applications of Roundup, there would be no point in buying RR seed, or at least you would have no incentive to pay a premium for them. Also, if weeds are resistant to roundup, or alternatively, past years' weed control efforts have greatly reduced weed pressure, again there would be no value in purchasing RR seeds.

      With respect to someone acquiring seeds that unknowing to the purchaser contained a patented and license restricted RR ready seed trait, unless you applied roundup to the crop during the planting season, you probably wouldn't know that they are RR. A farmer purchasing seeds that are represented as non RR seeds would not likely spray roundup during the growing season.

      But lets say it did happen, and by some other means the farmer discovers that the harvested crop contains RR genetics (say through testing for organic certification). Even then, the farmer would not be precluded from selling the grain as a commodity grain for use as feed or in food production. However, this is an area that I believe is unclear and I think unsettled, and as I posted sometime ago I welcome court challenges as I believe there needs to be some clarity brought here. I tend to lean toward that if a farmer discovers seed with ge traits acquired inadvertently, and reports that to the seed companies, it should be the companies` liability to either remove the seed, compensate the farmer for acquiring pure, non ge traited seed, or waive license restrictions. On the other hand, if the farmer now knowing his crop contains ge genetics purposely applies roundup to eliminate non round-up ready plants in order to purify the remaining seed and then uses the subsequent purified seed for planting, or selling or giving away to neighbors, as roundup ready seed, then I believe he has crossed the line to deliberately pirate the technology (and if the farmer deliberately propogates the seed for its RR properties, I have less sympathy with him claiming his crop is contaminated since he has demonstrated a desire for the genetics). My original response to your earlier posts I simply believed the Bowman case was an example of the latter, not the first. But I do think the law is as yet not entirely clear as to when producer's knowledge or use of inadvertently acquired ge traits crosses the line to being patent and licensing infringement.
      • Rickinreallife's picture
        Rickinreallife
        06.19.2014
        Reviewing this, I see that I responded in the context of U.S. agriculture and you were talking about conditions in Africa where the ability of commercial seed companies to control dissemination of their products or the legal and regulatory infrastructures to assure the sourcing, identity and qualities of seed may not be as developed. I am not familiar with whether acquiring seed from commodity stockpiles is a common practice in many parts of Africa. Even if that did happen historically in the U.S., it would have been a long time ago, and the widespread if not dominant practice of farmers purchasing seed annually in this country was well established prior to, and is attributable to many factors other than, ge patenting.

        I think African countries will have to weigh for themselves the tradeoffs in food security, food quality, environmental impacts, economic development between relying largely on an indigenous, seed commons, open source seed system or enabling an atmosphere that encourages both public and private investment in seed genetic advancements and availability to producers. Laws that recognize intellectual property and enable investors to have some measure of exclusivity in marketing those products are probably a necessary prerequisite for the latter. It takes a lot of time and money to explore possible new genetic improvements, to demonstrate their efficacy, and then if you want new knowledge to be disseminated, it takes capitol to finally produce commercial quantities, package and distribute, and meet any regulatory requirements. Much of this investment is upfront and at risk as there is always possibility it would fail in the marketplace. Obviously, if the legal system does not allow you maintain control the commercial use and be compensated for that investment, or that allowed the fruits of your investment to be easily stolen and commercialized by others, there would be no incentive to invest in that activity.
    • Rickinreallife's picture
      Rickinreallife
      06.18.2014
      Seed Serf Asked: 1. When the majority of farmers in a given geographical area have begun using use Monsanto seeds, all of the traditional elevator-based seed-sellers in the area will inevitably find themselves (illegally) selling Monsanto-copyright seeds, thus making this traditional activity itself illegal. 2. Traditional elevator-based seed sales systems literally cannot continue to legally exist in Monsanto-dominated areas, due to the level of GMO cross-contamination. 3. Rather than actively shut down all these traditional businesses (which would be very bad publicity), Monsanto sues individual farmers who dare to continue using them.

      It is my understanding that the licensing restriction extends only to the sale or plant of the seed with the patented trait. There is nothing in the technology use agreement that prevents the farmer or downstream purchaser from using the seed for the normal uses of commodity grain. Thus, the elevator storing, shipping and selling grain to processors, feeders and others who process the grain into feed or food products is restricted by the licensing agreement. Monsanto only retains the right to use the grain as seed.

      Grain elevators are merely warehouses of commingled commodity grain. While technically you could purchase open pollinated grain at an elevator and plant it, this would be a rare occurrence, mostly because the commingled grain is of uncertain genetics and germination quality. Also, if the stored grain is the product of F1 hybrids, the resulting crop from any replanted grain would be very low quality. Grain warehouses are not in the business of selling seed. While there may be full service businesses that sell seed and well as provide commodity storage and marketing services, the seed business is entirely separate and the seed sourced from certified fields. While commodity grain would cost only a fraction of seed quality commercial (public or private) seed, there are so many drawbacks that it would be better to purchase the seed. Another consideration, most states have commercial seed laws that require packagers and sellers of seed to accurately label commercial seed products, to make declarations of the seed contents and qualities, i.e. traits, purity, germination rate, percent of contaminants (e.g. weed seed) that they have to test for to verify and keep records of to back up the label declarations they are required to make. These seed laws have been in place long before biotech traits and are a truth in labeling law to reduce fraud and to enable buyers of seed to guage value. Selling commodity grain from a warehouse as commercial seed would not meet these requirements, and the grain warehouse knowingly doing this would be in violation of state commercial seed laws. My guess is that Mr. Bowman did not inform the elevator of his intended use of the grain, and I am certain that the elevator would not have represented or knowingly sold the grain as seed.

      Your question also presumes that seed saving or sourcing seed from commodity stockpiles has until recently been a common practice. I would suggest that annual or frequent purchasing of seed has been the preferred practice for some time. I may seem economically irrational for a producer to purchase seed inputs each year, rather than saving seeds or using $5/ bushel commodity grain rather than $150 / bushel seed. That would be right unless the purchased seed delivered value to offset its cost. The evidence that farmers have, for almost 100 years adopted hybrid seeds and other non-ge techniques for inserting seed qualities that are not possible through open pollinated seed saving, and that seeds with patent protected biotech traits and patent protected traits seeds were widely and rapidly adopted by producers suggests to me that farmers at least perceive the value.








      • Rickinreallife's picture
        Rickinreallife
        06.18.2014
        Rickinreallife said: "Thus, the elevator storing, shipping and selling grain to processors, feeders and others who process the grain into feed or food products is restricted by the licensing agreement. Monsanto only retains the right to use the grain as seed."

        That should say "is not restricted by the licensing agreement"
    • Rickinreallife's picture
      Rickinreallife
      06.18.2014
      Seed Serf: Sorry, I only just now came across your questions from some time ago. I first want to fill you in on who I am and then I will post separately to respond to your questions. I grew up in a small town in SW Nebraska. My dad managed what would now be considered a small farm/ranch. My sixth grade year, our family left the farm and my father managed the local elevator as well as selling Pioneer brand seeds, mostly soy and corn, and owned a small feed business specializing in extruded soybeans. My father retired from seed sales in the late 1990s, about the time biotech traits became available, and died about 10 years ago. I worked at the grain elevator my dad managed and at a grain elevator in the town I went to school at, as well as for area farmers throughout high school and to earn my way through college. I earned a degree in political science and an associates in Paralegal Studies and have had the fortune to work in government and ag policy positions ever since. I work in the intersection of public policy, farm advocacy and ag industry. Although commercial biotech is an important catalyst in developments and evolution in agriculture (some positive but some negative in my view), the interests I serve are not necessarily aligned with those of the major seed companies.. It is, however, part of my job to follow and understand issues and developments in agriculture and it is important that I am able to understand facts, research, analysis and legal issues accurately. That is why the Bowman case caught my attention.

      I am also fortunate to be able to maintain connections to agriculture and the people in it. During college, I went into partnership with a schoolmate to farrow hogs and sold about 300 weaned hogs a year. I did this for 3 years. Even today, I return to my home town from time to time to help friends and former employers with wheat harvest and enjoy helping with branding and moving cattle when I get the chance. I have absolutely no connection now or previously to Monsanto or to any commercial seed company or agricultural input supplier or processor other than past employers . I have no relatives or acquaintances I am aware of who work for these employers. I do contribute to a retirement account managed by others that might have Monsanto, Syngenta, etc. stock, (I'll have to check next statement).

      I have no way of proving this, but your assertion that I am a colleague of Monsanto experts who have contributed answers here is incorrect. However, I will take it as a compliment that you found my posts to be written well enough to assume I was a colleague of the scientists who have contributed here. .
  • Rickinreallife's picture
    Rickinreallife
    08.05.2013
    My apologies. The link defending patents I've been referring to was omitted. It is found here [http://www.biofortified.org/2013/03/a-defense-of-plant-and-crop-related-patents/]
  • Rickinreallife's picture
    Rickinreallife
    08.05.2013
    Seed Serf -- My previous post was not to condemn you or Mr. Bowman, I actually admire what was an innovating strategy to avoid the patent and believe that the questions raised in his case were indeed important for the court to consider, and there are related questions that remain unresolved. The insistence on representing Mr. Bowman as unwittingly acquiring roundup ready soybeans without his knowlege or desire misses the opportunity to address the legitimate societal issue -- the extent and manner in which patents should be used. That is a debate in which there are good arguments from a variety of perspectives, even those who object to allowing patents on manipulations of biological processes. I pasted a link to an article that makes the case for patent protection in my previous post. I am looking for an article I'd once see that I thought laid out opposing arguments well, and I'll paste that one if I can find it. That Mr. Bowman was or wasn't an innocent victim is not a prerequisite to greater discussion of that issue.
  • Rickinreallife's picture
    Rickinreallife
    08.05.2013
    Seed Serf said: "What Monsanto HAS done is to sue farmers who have bought generic seeds from third parties, where the purchased seeds have been without their knowledge cross-contaminated with GMO seeds.
    See e.g. Vernon Hugh Bowman v. Monsanto Company, US Supreme Court 2013. Here, Monsanto successfully sued a farmer who bought mixed seeds from a local grain elevator - some of which were, unknown to him, GMO seeds."

    I am not seeing how any reading of Bowman v Monsanto [http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-796_c07d.pdf] can lead to that conclusion. Mr. Bowman did not argue that he was unaware that he purchased soybeans with the roundup ready trait. Quite the contrary, he purchased beans from the elevator with the expectation that most would be since most soy planted and harvested in the area was produced from roundup ready seed. As the court found "When he applied a glyphosate-based herbicide to his fields, he confirmedthat this was so; a significant proportion of the new plantssurvived the treatment, and produced in their turn a new crop of soybeans with the Roundup Ready trait. Bowman saved seed from that crop to use in his late-season planting the next year—and then the next, and the next, untilhe had harvested eight crops in that way."

    The case was never about being sued for unwittingly acquiring seed he had no idea contained patented roundup ready trait. The defense he raised was patent exhaustion, suggesting that the patent did not extend to the progeny of the original purchased seed, i.e. when they became crops, their patent was exhausted. As you know, the Supreme Court in an 8 - 0 decision, no dissent and the opinion written by one of the more liberal judges, found that the exhaustion principle did not apply to Mr. Bowman's deliberate propogation of seed with the roundup ready trait. Mr. Bowman also raised what the Court itself described as the "blame the bean" defense, saying that he did not replicate the seed, the seed replicated on their own, he was merely a passive observer. Again, the court noted Mr. Bowman's deliberate husbandry over 8 seasons to propogate the roundup ready seeds.

    For what its worth, here is a link to an article that defends patents. I am not suggesting that the article settles the issue once and for all, but it does contain some history and some insights that contradict many of the assumptions about the role and use of patents with agronomic applications, and the intellectual property protections of plant varieties prior to genetic engineering. Also, I would offer this [ http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/monsanto-court-case-not-about-save-the-seeds-myth-192667421.html] as evidence there is not agreement that the Bowman case was about disruption of seed saving.

  • Rickinreallife's picture
    Rickinreallife
    08.05.2013
    Seed Serf -- I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the Bowman v. Monsanto. Yes, Mr Bowman did purchase grain from an elevator, but with the expectation that becausemost soy crops in the area were GMO varieties, it was a good bet that the grain would be mostly GMO. Mr. Bowman did purchase roundup ready seed for his first crop, but didn't want to pay the technology fee for a second, more risky short season. Mr. Bowman's defense was not that he didn't know the grain he bought contained a patented gene, but claimed that the patent restrictions were "Exhausted". He then proceeded to purify the seed by applying Roundup to destroy the non roundup ready. In addition to the exhautionI don't know how you can read the Supreme Court's exhaustion defense, he also claimed a somewhat novel defense dubbed "blame the bean" (Supreme Court's words, not mine), arguing that he didn't cause the replication, that was the nature of the bean to replicate itself, he was a mere bystander. The court dismissed this argument finding that his carful husbandry to purify the seed and growing over several seasons was hardly passive.

    I don't see how any fair reading of the Supreme Court's Bowman (A very rare 8 - 0 decision by the way written by one of the more liberal judges) could arrive at the conclusion you asserted in this thread that he unwittingly obtained seed that he was not aware had a patented trait.
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    08.03.2013
    Oh wow. This is like a sore tooth I can’t stop prodding…

    @Beth Henggeler,

    I’d just like to make sure I fully understand the meaning of your last post:

    If I’ve understood you correctly, this website has a full-time public relations staff of precisely zero. This website, launched with great fanfare as the place to find the answer to “virtually any question posed by consumers about genetically engineered crops” (New York Times), relies solely on the personal contributions of a handful of volunteers. This website, where the combined multi-billion-dollar forces of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and BASF promise to “open the doors and provide information” (your boss Cathleen Enright, as quoted in the New York Times), has not employed even one dedicated information specialist to fulfil this purpose.

    Please let me know if I’ve misunderstood anything there.

    _

    PS. Re: that last link you posted regarding the “myth” of Monsanto buying the Blackwater mercenary group… You do realise that there are other articles on the very same website that say maybe they did?

    http://redgreenandblue.org/2011/01/04/did-monstanto-finally-buy-blackwater-theres-no-way-to-know/

    In other words, the media outlet Red Green and Blue, which you cite as a reliable source, has explicitly stated that they have absolutely no idea whether or not Monsanto staff are telling the truth on this topic, because the information trail is too well hidden.

    You’re slipping, Beth…

  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    08.02.2013
    @Seed Serf, I believe everyone answering questions on this site, even the experts are volunteering. That info is in the "about" section. There might not be as much follow up as necessary, but I think that is due more to the website design. I find it kind of irritating, when you don't get an alert when a thread has been updated.
    As far as not being able to answer your question...I'm not going to make up an answer just to make you happy. I did give you several channels to pursue if you wanted specific information regarding Monsanto and Africa. I hope you at least looked at the links. I encourage you to use the contact info I gave you to try and find answers to your questions. If you choose not to though, well that is fine, but you haven't really pursued the truth then. Please be skeptical about the conspiracy theories, the thing about Monsanto buying Blackwater is a myth. http://redgreenandblue.org/2010/10/24/creating-satans-collective-myth-building-about-monsanto-obama-etc/
    Kind regards,
    Beth
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    08.01.2013
    @Beth Henggeler,
    _
    Oh dear. I’m tempted to just walk away from this, but I feel compelled to comment on some of your more dubious assertions.
    _
    >”Countries should examine new technology and it's [sic] impact for sure, however both sides of the debate should be represented don't you think?”

    I certainly do. But WHAT debate? Across Africa, GM companies and the embassies backing them have worked to strongly discourage open public debate around the issue. The recent aforementioned closed meeting in Ghana’s US Embassy - essentially a press conference masquerading as a discussion, whose evident purpose was to present GM in the country as a fait accompli - is a fairly mild example. If you have nothing to hide, organise open public discussions in the countries into which you are expanding. Until you do this, talk of a “debate” is laughable.
    _
    > “The Guardian story mentions one group that turned down the invitation. One. They did get some free press out of though, so perhaps that was their intent?”

    I’m not personally familiar with the group in question, but it certainly appears that their refusal to attend is the main reason that this blatantly stage-managed event got any international press at all. Well done, them. As I said above, there is no debate of which to speak.
    _
    >”As far as the council not being formed, that might speak to problems in the goverment. Perhaps you disagree, but that's just my two cents.”

    Oh, I fully agree with you here. There’s an old joke around these parts where a Western businessman complains, “My god, these Africans are so corrupt! Do you know how many bribes I had to pay before they rolled over?” More broadly, governments of poor countries also tend to roll over quite quickly when one of their major aid donors (like the US) takes control of the situation. Such is the nature of the developing world, and the companies which exploit it.
    _
    >” There is a lot of misinformation about gmos… Just searching Ghana and Monsanto pulls up articles with tons of misinformation”

    I’m sure it does. But to be very clear: the culture of secrecy surrounding GM expansion is entirely responsible for this. Secrecy breeds conspiracy theories - and while I do not personally believe that Monsanto is, say, a giant satanic cult plotting to poison us all, I only find this slightly more ridiculous than the suggestion that Monsanto is in Africa to help people. Offhand, I cannot think of a single corporation on this planet from whom a complaint about lack of public information would reek more strongly of rank hypocrisy.
    _
    >”You say that you suspect Monsanto is in Ghana [for a much longer period than has been officially admitted] but you don't know for sure right? Do you have reasons for Monsanto specifically?”

    Yes I have. But I have no intention of saying anything which might identify my sources, because you people scare the hell out of me. (Especially at a time when the aforementioned culture of secrecy is generating plausible rumours that Monsanto is the new owner of notorious mercenary group Blackwater/Xe/Academi…)
    _
    >”As far as to the specific questions you ask, I can't answer them because I don't know.”

    You are presently speaking in the capacity of a representative of the PR team for a coalition of GM companies. With all due respect, to say “I don’t [personally] know” is frankly pathetic.
    _
    And this is where I give up. It’s clear that the group responsible for running this site has merely (a) hired a few specialists to answer very specific technical questions, and (b) hired a few people from within their organisations to provide backup PR, based on a fixed set of talking points beyond which they cannot go. As you recommend, I’ll post a separate question regarding the murky dealings surrounding the launch of GMOs in Ghana, but I’m not holding out much hope for a transparent answer.

  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    08.01.2013
    @seedserf
    One more thing, because I forgot to address this earlier, please don't think that becuase I and some other Monsanto employees are commenting, we disrespect Africa. When you work for a company you believe in it's hard not to chime in. That's why I encourage you to ask your question again in the main question section. It might take them awhile to get to it, they have many to answer, but one of the site experts will hopefully be able to give you some information, or try the Monsanto link I gave you in my other post from today.
    Thank you for the comments regarding professionalism, you have been the same.
    Regards,
    Beth
  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    08.01.2013
    @rickspalding - Dogwalker ha! Actually that would be an awesome company perk, wish it existed.
  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    08.01.2013
    @SeedSerf
    Thanks for providing the links. I read the articles and the cable and this is my takeaway from them. Countries should examine new technology and it's impact for sure, however both sides of the debate should be represented don't you think? The Guardian story mentions one group that turned down the invitation. One. They did get some free press out of though, so perhaps that was their intent?
    The US has the longest history of growing biotech crops, and we have a strong regulatory process, why wouldn't the embassy bring in someone with expertise in the matter? There is a lot of misinformation about gmos (hence this website) so I don't see anything shady about bringing in an expert from the US. The US would want to promote technology that might increase trade in the future. You mention that education levels are low in Ghana (is this because so many are subsistence farmer families and don't have time for school, or is it more of a school infrastructure problem?) people might be easy prey for activists. Just searching Ghana and Monsanto pulls up articles with tons of misinformation, full of things like American farmers are enslaved to Monsanto. Thats nonsense! Farmers make their seed choices each year by evaluating which seed will work best for them. They might buy all their seed from one company or from a number of them. As far as the council not being formed, that might speak to problems in the goverment. Perhaps you disagree, but that's just my two cents.
    Since this is in the comments section and I'm not one of the experts on this site, perhaps it would be good if you submitted the question to the actual site? Something like "can you tell me the history of biotech research in Ghana by the companies represented by this site. Then you might get an African expert. Because I'm certainly not one. As far as to the specific questions you ask, I can't answer them because I don't know. And I still think some of that might be company confidential. But if you don't ask the answer is always no right? You say that you suspect Monsanto is in Ghana but you don't know for sure right? Do you have reasons for Monsanto specifically? From what I've found a lot of the research in Africa is being run by government organizations...again that's from a Google search.
    Here is some info about water efficient maize for Africa, royalty free seed for small farmers. http://www.monsanto.com/improvingagriculture/Pages/water-efficient-maize-for-africa.aspx
    I know it's not Ghana but it does set a precedent for how we are working with smallholder farmers. Kind of along that article on cassava yesterday.
    For answers to your specific questions, I encourage you to contact Monsanto -- link here http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/Pages/contact-us.aspx
    we also have a facebook page and twitter account, places that you could also ask your question. You might get some more details that way.
    Here is the contact info for DuPont Ghana - from their website. http://www2.dupont.com/Our_Company/en_US/worldwide/ghana.html

    You could also contact ISAAA http://www.isaaa.org/inbrief/regionalcenters/africenter/default.asp Although they keep track of products that are commercialized not ones in testing.
    They do have lots of info on biotech though. Same with the agbioworld and agbioforum links I sent yesterday.
    Best,
    Beth
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    08.01.2013
    @Beth Henggler,
    _
    First of all, may I say that greatly respect and appreciate the professionalism with which you’re handling this topic, especially since it is clear that your employers have put you front and centre here while giving you so little information about their actual activities that you have to rely on Google like the rest of us.
    _
    That said, this is a PR campaign for a multi-billion-dollar global company, launched at a moment when Monsanto’s ongoing expansion into Africa is receiving global coverage. The continent of Africa has about 150 million internet users, and to address their concerns in a public forum, Monsanto has appointed a librarian in America who by her own account knows nothing of either the continent or her employer’s activities there. Some might suggest that, at a management level, this is indicative of Monsanto’s utter contempt for Africa.
    _
    Nevertheless, you’re handling it well, and I hope you get a raise for this.
    _
    The links you posted are relevant articles from credible sources which accurately outline the Ghanaian government’s recent conversion to the GM cause. The September 2012 article you posted (“Biosafety Committee To Research Genetic Foods”) also outlines the steps the Ghanaian government considered necessary in order to properly regulate GM crops. These include the formation of a National Biosafety Authority, which according to a spokesperson “could be fully functional by the end of the year depending on support from the government.”
    _
    Now, let's fast forward to July 2013: there’s still no National Biosafety Authority, and yet the Ghanaian government has approved 4 field trials of GM crops. The announcement was made at an event organised by the US Embassy…

    http://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2013/07/17/ghana-approves-first-crops-to-undergo-gmo-confined-field-trials/

    …which, meanwhile, has declined to respond to international press enquiries about its stance on the matter…

    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/jul/24/gm-crops-ghana-us-genetically-modified-food

    … despite the fact that the US Embassy’s pro-GM stance has long been clear from its Wikileaks cables…

    http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=10ACCRA59
    _
    In short, from down here it rather looks like the US has strongarmed the Ghanaian government into fast-tracking approval of GM trials without the prior establishment of the promised National Biosafety Authority. Regarding your question as to why farmers wouldn’t be enthusiastic about getting into debt to try your new technology, my answer is: because of things like this.
    _
    Meanwhile, many Ghanaians have long been under the impression that Monsanto has in been running facilities in the sparsely-populated north of this country for several years already.
    _
    So, I’ve got two questions. Neither of them are requests for “company confidential info”, but merely requests for basic information about Monsanto’s presence and activities in Ghana.
    _
    (1) How long has Monsanto had operations in Ghana?
    _
    (2) Did Monsanto begin trials of GM crops in Ghana before or after the Ghanaian government established and launched the full set of state institutions deemed necessary under the Biosafety Bill 2011 to safely regulate trials of GM crops?
    _
    (These are fairly serious allegations – it might be appropriate to call in an Africa specialist at this point….)
  • rickspalding's picture
    rickspalding
    07.31.2013
    At Beth, I am the dog walker at Monsanto, floor 2. I hear plenty. When I get a chance I use the hand held copiers and extract as much confidential information as possible. I give it to Russia Today, they have been compiling the info for years now. We are just waiting for the right moment.
  • ProGMOfarmer's picture
    ProGMOfarmer
    07.31.2013
    Dr Kershen,

    Thank you for your patience in explaining the patentability of GMO, and other seed.

    Sadly many backyard gardeners don't know that they often lose a great deal of plant vigor and yield potential when they save their garden seed for reuse. Getting this point across to non-farmers who often assume that farming is no different than gardening on a larger scale, has been a major frustration to me as I encounter the ill-informed and uneducated all over the i-net.

    The only commercial farmers I know who would save their seed for future replant are those who are near bankruptcy. I suppose half a crop is better than none.
  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    07.31.2013
    @seed serf
    Yes, I'm one of the librarians at Monsanto, however that doesn't mean I know what's under development, nor I can I talk about company confidential info. However I can give you some info I found on the topic like this http://www.scidev.net/global/gm/news/monsanto-helps-out-public-cassava-research.html
    First though I have some questions. If a subsistence farmer had only a small amount of land, why wouldn't they want to use technology that would allow them higher yields off the same amount of land? I don't know a lot about subsistence farming in Ghana (I grew up on a farm in Missouri) but don't they already use fertilizer and possibly some kind of pesticide? Or is the pesticide in this case hours of labor? As far as debt goes, farmers/ranchers in the US often take out loans or operating notes at the beginning of the season, and pay it off after harvest.
    Again my knowledge of what is being developed in Africa isn't from working at Monsanto, just from Google searches. That article I linked to previously at AgBioForum talks about how the larger companies don't have money invested in crops like cassava for commercial development, but humanitarian and the development is at the government level. However that article did have tables of crops that were at the field trial levels and in which country. So that would be good source to review.
    Here is some more info on crops in Ghana
    http://www.modernghana.com/news/415040/1/biosafety-committee-to-research-genetic-foods.html
    Looks like cowpea and sweet potato are in the pipeline.
    Here's another on cassava http://www.modernghana.com/news/424086/1/west-african-scientists-reach-consensus-on-gm-cass.html
    And this is from ISAAA about how there is a need for the media to spread the correct info regarding biotech in Ghana. Also ISAAA is a good source for lots of data on gm crops throughout the world, and they offer email alerts.
    Other good sources for info about gm crops worldwide are AgBioWorld.org and AgBioForum.org
    http://www.ghana.gov.gh/index.php/2012-02-08-08-32-47/general-news/1772-media-urged-to-educate-public-on-biotechnology
    I know I gave you a lot of links but hope you find this helpful.
    Beth
  • Feeding_Logic's picture
    Feeding_Logic
    07.31.2013
    @Seed Serf. "What Monsanto HAS done is to sue farmers who have bought generic seeds from third parties, where the purchased seeds have been without their knowledge cross-contaminated with GMO seeds." Sorry, but this is part of the same myth. And your point has been very easy to disprove in court. All they ask these supposed "unknowledgeable" farmers is if they sprayed Roundup on the crop. In every one of the cases, it was proven that they sprayed Roundup and this is where it becomes clear that the farmer had intent to benefit from the technology, but didn't want to pay for it. Luckily, 99.97% of the growers are willing to pay for the benefit they get (there have been +/- 150 court cases in 17 years - out of 400,000 farmers in the U.S.).

    To all of the other comments - please keep in mind that seed patents are not a GMO issue. All new seed varieties, whether bred with GMOs or conventional methods, can be patented. Besides the large seed companies, small seed companies, universities, non-profit organizations, and even back-yard gardeners and breeders can, and frequently do, get their inventions patented. It has been that way for many,many years and long before the concept of GMOs was introduced. But the patents only last 18 years and can only be issued on new/novel varieties (not products that have already been on the market). So between older varieties that were never protected, "public" varieties that are shared, and varieties where the protection has expired, there are many options for growers to choose from.
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    07.31.2013
    Hi @Beth Henggeler, and thank you for a response that is really beginning to get to the heart of the matter.
    _
    As to your question:
    >”why would you assume that they would want to stay with the subsistence model if the technology is available that would allow them more food security and increased income?”
    _
    Hmmmm. Why would I assume that subsistence farmers working on tiny plots of land, with virtually no liquid assets, would voluntarily get themselves into enormous debt (which most would have to do) in order to experiment with a technology whose local applications have thus far been shrouded in the utmost secrecy? Why would I assume that these farmers would gamble on tying themselves to vastly increased annual seed and fertiliser costs, based on a promise that in a few years they will be able to compete more effectively with the flood of (heavily subsidised, and frequently America) foreign crops pouring in through the nation's ports every month?
    _
    Good question. Let’s just say I’m going to assume for historical reasons that that's the case. And I'd imagine most people in Africa who have experienced even part of the last half-century of Western “assistance” to the continent, complete a combination of growing national indebtedness and ever-growing rates of extraction of capital to the West, are also likely to assume that. But perhaps we may agree to differ on this one based on our respective experiences.
    _
    _
    The second part of your response is far more interesting:
    _
    >”Subsistence farmers would more likely be growing wheat or rice, in Africa perhaps cassava or bananas. There are no gmo varieties of those available, so right now it's not an issue.”
    _
    This strikes me as a minor historic moment: as far as I’m aware, this is the closest any representative of a GM company has come to actually publicly discussing which crops are principally involved in the current expansion of GM companies into their new set of African target markets.
    _
    To be clear: here in Ghana for example, we are aware that some experimental GM crops are already underway in the country, - but WE HAVE NO IDEA WHICH CROPS, OR TO WHAT EXTENT, BECAUSE NONE OF YOU WILL TELL US.
    _
    It’s certainly not in the media here: there’s merely discussions of GM “crops” and “seeds” with no further explanation offered.
    _
    So, here’s a marvellous chance to show the openness of the GM industry: COULD YOU PLEASE PROVIDE DATA ON WHICH GM CROPS ARE PRESENTLY BEING PILOTED IN GHANA, WHICH COMPANIES ARE INVOLVED, AND ON WHAT SCALE THIS EXPERIMENT IS TAKING PLACE? This, I would suggest, is the very basic minimum of information citizens require in order to weigh the merits of the situation. So far, the most that the nation has been offered is a private “stakeholders’” meeting (invitation only) inside the US Embassy, and a refusal by said US Embassy to answer press inquiries as to their stance on the matter.
    _
    This looks at best shoddy, and at worst downright sinister.
    _
    Having googled you, I note that you are in fact Monsanto’s librarian, so you are most probably the person who has the best direct access to the data in question. Therefore, if your organisation is genuinely serious about open discussion, please publish the aforementioned data here.
    _
    Many thanks.
  • GMO Free America's picture
    GMO Free America
    07.31.2013
    "Seeds of Destruction---It didn't used to be like this. At one time, seed companies were just large-scale farmers who grew various strains for next year's crop. Most of the innovative hybrids and cross-breeding was done the old-fashioned way, at public universities, and the results were shared publicly.

    "It was done in a completely open-sourced way,' says Benbrook. 'Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture exchanged all sorts of seeds with other scientists and researchers all over the world. This free trade and exchange of plant genetic resources was the foundation of progress in plant breeding. And in less than a decade, it was over.'" (https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=413446805430958&id=396019870506985)



    "It began in the mid-'90s, when Monsanto developed genetically modified (GM) crops such as soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets and wheat. It bred Franken-crops that were immune to its leading weed killer, Roundup. That meant that farmers no longer had to till the land to kill weeds, as they'd done for hundreds of years. They could simply blast their fields with chemicals. Problem solved.

    The so-called no-till revolution promised greater yields, better profits for the family farm, and a heightened ability to feed a growing world. But there was one small problem: Agriculture had placed a belligerent strongman in charge of the buffet line.

    Monsanto knew that it needed more than genetically modified crops to squeeze out competitors, so it also began buying the biggest seed businesses, spending $12 billion by the time its splurge concluded. The company was cornering agriculture by buying up the best shelf space and distribution channels. All its braying about global benevolence began to look much more like a naked power grab.

    Seed prices began to soar. Between 1995 and 2011, the cost of soybeans increased 325 percent. The cost of corn rose 259 percent. And the price of genetically modified cotton jumped a stunning 516 percent.

    Instead of feeding the world, Monsanto simply drove prices through the roof, taking the biggest share for itself. A study by Dr. Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that rapidly increasing seed and pesticide costs were tamping farmers' incomes, while Monsanto continued to lard away any cost savings from the technology for itself.

    It offered steep discounts to independent dealers willing to restrict themselves to mostly selling Monsanto products. Those same arrangements brought severe punishment if the independents ever sold out to a rival.

    Intel had run a similar campaign within the tech industry, only to be drilled by the European Union with a record $1.45 billion fine for anti-competitive practices. Yet U.S. regulators showed little concern for Monsanto's expanding power.

    "They're a pesticide company that's bought up seed firms," says Bill Freese, a scientist at the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit public-interest and environmental-advocacy group. "Business-wise, it's a beautiful, really smart strategy. It's just awful for agriculture and the environment."

    Today, Monsanto seeds cover 40 percent of America's crop acres — and 27 percent worldwide.

    "If you put control over plant and genetic resources into the hands of the private sector...and anybody thinks that plant breeding is still going to be used to solve society's real problems and to advance food security, I have a bridge to sell them," says Dr. Benbrook." (ibid)
  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    07.31.2013
    @seedserf - Yes I realize that I only answered part of the question, and more from the point of an American farmer, but it's a very complex issue. First why would you assume that they would want to stay with the subsistence model if the technology is available that would allow them more food security and increased income?
    Subsistence farmers would more likely be growing wheat or rice, in Africa perhaps cassava or bananas. There are no gmo varieties of those available, so right now it's not an issue. If there comes a day when the right kinds of crops are available (and cassava and bananas are already in the pipeline) and political and activist barriers are removed a subsistence farmer will hopefully have several choices available. Currently the gm cassava and bananas being developed are not funded by Monsanto, but rather by African organizations such as the National Banana Research Program. http://www.banana.go.ug/ The article below talks about humanitarian licensing as well
    http://www.agbioforum.org/v13n1/v13n1a05-takeshima.htm
    There is also the example of golden rice. http://www.goldenrice.org/Content1-Who/who4_IP.php If you go to the licensing arrangement section you will see that most if not all of the companies here donated their technology for humanitarian purposes.
    So the precedent of making sure the technology gets to those you would benefit from it on a subsistence level is already there with rice and in the works with other crops. I hope that information helped.
  • Inasense's picture
    Inasense
    07.31.2013
    The analogy of the movie CD (DVD as Seed Serf pointed out) is very far from that of patenting plants. Movies don't reproduce themselves and share their code with other movies.


    This website assumes that people want GMOs, which is not the case with the majority of the public. Something like 80-90% of Americans want labels. We want to know what we are buying, eating and what type of companies we are supporting. Label them! The reason you will fight in congress to avoid these labels is because most people will rightly avoid them!


    There are many reasons to avoid GMOs; for me, the fact that you are taking away the ability to grow and sell food freely (because you are patenting life and suing people who even get "drifted" seeds) is the main one. Access to our own food, like water and air, should not be "owned" by anyone! This should be a basic human right!


    Even if there are no health consequences (which is a big IF), I don't want to support any companies that profit on making food/plants/LIFE in general patented and not freely available to everyone. The consequences of the "terminating gene" organisms are probably the most horrifying. In that case, these companies will be able to control the plants lifetime as well as their inability to reproduce thereby making all of us dependent on buying their seeds, plants and end-product "foods".



    This is not the world I want to live in and I will continue to fight against GMOs and for global human rights.
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    07.31.2013
    @Robert Wager Wager,
    @Sorgfelt
    >"Monsanto has never sued any farmer for trace amounts of GM in their non-GM fields."
    ...
    Absolutely correct. This is a myth generated by anti-GMO campaigners, and it's not helping. HOWEVER:
    _
    What Monsanto HAS done is to sue farmers who have bought generic seeds from third parties, where the purchased seeds have been without their knowledge cross-contaminated with GMO seeds.
    See e.g. Vernon Hugh Bowman v. Monsanto Company, US Supreme Court 2013. Here, Monsanto successfully sued a farmer who bought mixed seeds from a local grain elevator - some of which were, unknown to him, GMO seeds.
    _
    At present, Monsanto and friends are expanding their operations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana - all countries with negligible infrastructure where mixed seeds are commonly bought and sold in bulk from the local equivalents of grain elevators.
    _
    In all of these named countries, poverty is high, education levels are low, and market regulation at a rural level is essentially non-existent. Only a complete fool would assume other than that re-sold GMO seeds will enter these largely informal seed-trading economies very quickly.
    _
    Based on their performance in the United States, can we safely assume that Monsanto WILL sue African farmers for planting mixed seeds bought on the open market, if some of these seeds are GMO seeds sold to them without their knowledge?
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    07.31.2013
    @Beth Henggeler
    >07.30.2013 1:27 pm
    >But seedserf, a farmer is using seed for commercial use. He or she will sell the harvested crop. The personal use argument doesn't stand in this situation.
    ...
    In my original post I used the phrase "SUBSISTENCE farmers" for a reason: Monsanto et al are presently moving into a number of African countries with a large number of subsistence farmers, i.e. rural smallholders growing small crops solely to feed their own family.

    Can I assume from your answer that:
    (a) GMOs in Africa will deal only with commercial farmers, and will not touch subsistence farmers in any way; and
    (b) in the unlikely event that GMOs do sell seeds to subsistence (i.e. non-commercial) farmers, the doctrine of Personal Use will fully apply, and copyright on re-used seeds will thus not apply to such farmers?
    Looking forward to your answer.
  • Bob Phelps's picture
    Bob Phelps
    07.31.2013
    In the 1980 Chakrabarty case, the US Supreme Court allowed patents on living organisms by a vote of only 5-4, after the the Patent Office and the Patent Appeal process had rejected the patent application. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_v._Chakrabarty The decision should not have stood as the organism was unmodified. Thus, it was not patentable as patent law requires an inventive step, not just discovery.

    Genetic manipulation transfers a single gene, for a novel trait, from a bacterium and/or virus to the cell of a crop plant traditionally bred over thousands of years. That patient selective breeding, year after year, was done in the public domain by seed savers and peasant farmers. So, adding a new gene to an existing crop seed using GM techniques encloses and privatises the biological commons, the common property of all humanity. That's biopiracy!
  • Chris123's picture
    Chris123
    07.31.2013
    Cornlover - can you explain please. thanks
  • Cornlover's picture
    Cornlover
    07.31.2013
    Chris123 stay on topic and clearly you haven't done your research.
  • Chris123's picture
    Chris123
    07.30.2013
    Robert Wager
    The fact is that the neighbouring farms are contaminated by pollen of GMO crops. Its impossible to avoid.
    How much of GMO DNA trace-amounts in your own crop are considered 'legal'? There is NO protection against potential legal action from Monsanto, who clearly is more powerful than the small farmer, trying to protect his crop from being contaminated. We are not protected from the continued proliferation of Monsanto’s (flawed) technology.
  • Robert Wager Wager's picture
    Robert Wager
    07.30.2013
    Sorgfelt
    No you have been myth-informed. The court case records of Organic Seed Growers and trade Association v Monsanto is very clear on this point. Monsanto has never sued any farmer for trace amounts of GM in their non-GM fields.

    Monsantolies

    If what you say is true then you have nothing to worry about as farmers will quickly realize it and stop buying the GM seeds. Time will tell.
  • Chris123's picture
    Chris123
    07.30.2013
    @dabeegmon: great argument. Its indeed impossible to avoid GM transfer onto ones own farm. That seals it for me. Further I feel that the professor merely explained the legal technicalities to complicate the answer to the question. He then avoided to explain the pro's and con's but gave an inappropriate comparison to buying CD's. Seeds are a common good for all of us. The fact that those patents literally force farmers to use GM seeds, requires a very different answer to that question.
  • Feeding_Logic's picture
    Feeding_Logic
    07.30.2013
    Plant patents are nothing new. If, after 83 years of plant patents, no evil corporate entity has assumed control of the food chain, what makes you think it will happen now?

    “A man can patent a mouse trap or copyright a nasty song, but if he gives to the world a new fruit that will add millions to the value of earth’s annual harvest he will be fortunate if he is rewarded by so much as having his name connected with the result. Though the surface of plant experimentation has thus far been only scratched and there is so much immeasurably important work waiting to be done in this line I would hesitate to advise a young man, no matter how gifted or devoted, to adopt plant breeding as a life work until America takes some action to protect his unquestioned rights to some benefit from his achievements.” Letter from Luther Burbank (probably written in the late 1800s), read by Congressman Fred S. Purnell during debate of the Plant Protection Act of 1930.

    “[n]othing that Congress could do to help farming would be of greater value and permanence than to give to the plant breeder the same status as the mechanical and chemical inventors through the patent law. There are but few plant breeders. The [PPA] will, I feel sure, give us many Burbanks.” Thomas Edison, 1930.
  • Maryb's picture
    Maryb
    07.30.2013
    Thank you for information regarding countries now exporting GMO tainted food. I will now know what countries food to avoid.
  • Maryb's picture
    Maryb
    07.30.2013
    Aren't you manufacturing food rather than growing it using a natural seed?
  • Sorgfelt's picture
    Sorgfelt
    07.30.2013
    The problem is when the patented genes are spread through natural processes, as they inevitably will, and contaminate crops that were not intended to have these traits. In those cases, Monsanto will sue the victim farmer, who should be suing Monsanto instead. Unfortunately here, deep pockets rule.
  • jtrav21's picture
    jtrav21
    07.30.2013
    @ monsantolies - farmers are free to purchase many different types of seeds. If they purchase a GMO technology, they agree to the legal restrictions and rights that go along with that purchase. The offering from biotech crop companies is that they sell seed which can deliver unique performance traits, which should offer a farmer a more attractive return on their harvest. If this return is not positive, then the rational farmer would not use them. If farmers are buying they seed, they must be realizing some net benefit -- or they wouldn't do it. That is why farmers overwhelmingly use transgenic seeds for major commodity crops.
  • Beth Henggeler's picture
    Beth Henggeler
    07.30.2013
    But seedserf, a farmer is using seed for commercial use. He or she will sell the harvested crop. The personal use argument doesn't stand in this situation.
  • camp5241's picture
    camp5241
    07.30.2013
    It should probably be mentioned that the patent does not give the biotech company ownership of the trait forever. Much like the medical drug industry, the patent is only for a period of time, after which, anyone is allowed to recreate the patented product.
  • monsantolies's picture
    monsantolies
    07.30.2013
    why even bother discussing it. to argue about the legal position of owning a seed is essentially ridiculous. why would you buy into a system that requires you to year on year have to go to a company to renew your seed stock and on top of that pay year on year more for it as they add more GM traits to overcome falling yields and pesticide resistance
  • dabeegmon's picture
    dabeegmon
    07.30.2013
    As plant genetics transfer using multiple vectors there are very high degrees of likelihood that non-GMO seeds have acquired some of the GMO characteristics - - - not by human intervention but by basic biolobical processes. Yet any seed tested must be 100% free of GMO residues - - - hmmmm that's no longer possible. Therefore the large multinationals want to OWN all plant genetics. This gives total control and an absolutely huge profit margin. (If that last is not visible read what the investment community says about the major firms!!)
  • average man in the country's picture
    average man in the country
    07.30.2013
    Dr. Kershen,
    Best answer I have read on the subject. Glad you are a professor. I feel better about future lawyers now.
  • Seed Serf's picture
    Seed Serf
    07.30.2013
    >"This is no different than a person who purchases a movie CD. The person owns the movie CD but the person does not own the intellectual property in the CD. Consequently, the person cannot legally make a copy of the movie CD."

    That's a very interesting analogy, Professor. It raises two questions:

    (1) As I'm sure you know, in many jurisdictions around the world the purchaser of a CD can legally make a copy for their own personal use - just not for commercial use. Does a similar exception apply to subsistence farmers who purchase GM seeds for their own personal use?

    (2) You have selected possibly the most controversial area of copyright in the modern era. In the public mind it is mainly associated with near-total non-enforceability - and with disproportionate lawsuits instituted against individuals almost at random. Are you implying that we can expect the same kinds of enforcement of GMO copyright?

    Finally: DVDs, Professor. "Movie CDs" are called DVDs. You're welcome.
  • Lennon5044's picture
    Lennon5044
    07.29.2013
    Doesn't seem so simple. Seems rather complicated.
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