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Monsanto Patent Fight Ensnares Missouri Farm Town

PILOT GROVE, Mo. | Soybean farmer David Brumback calls himself a loyal customer of Monsanto Co. His product of choice: genetically engineered seeds resistant to pesticides and weed killers.

So when the biotech giant named Brumback and more than 100 other local farmers in a subpoena seeking five years of sales records, his first reaction was befuddlement. Then anger.

"With Monsanto, you're guilty until you're proven innocent," he said.

Across rural America, Monsanto is known for aggressive legal efforts to protect its patent. Farmers who save and replant the patented seeds in subsequent growing seasons quickly hear from the company's lawyers - and almost always lose, or settle out of court before trial.

Now Monsanto is raising the stakes against this so-called seed piracy with an unprecedented lawsuit against a farm co-op it accuses of aiding the illegal practice by cleaning seeds for use in future crops. That practice violates the contract between Monsanto and farmers which prohibits farmers from stockpiling seeds or selling second-generation seeds.

The St. Louis-based company says it's merely protecting an investment that exceeds $2 million a day in overall research and development costs.

Lawyers for the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator Inc. in the central Missouri town, population 750, offer a more nefarious explanation: Monsanto wants to make an example of the co-op through tactics that reek of bullying and intimidation.

"Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the co-op will have no choice but to relent," attorney Steven Schwartz wrote in a court motion filed earlier this year. The company sought purchase records and depositions from 114 Pilot Grove customers.

"Its true motive is to gather information for future lawsuits against the co-op, its customers and other farm businesses around Pilot Grove."

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