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Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal?

From: July 8, 2006

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It seems that the majority of policy makers in Africa are unaware or uninterested in the fact that GM crops are patented, which threatens farmers' livelihoods and seed security, while granting GM corporations incredible political control over countries that chose to grow their crops.

Talk about biosafety frameworks at policy level consistently misses out the fact that patented GM crops will forbid farmers from saving their seed.  But there can be no doubt that Monsanto and the other GM companies will be utterly serious about enforcing patents on their GM crops once they have been commercially approved in Africa.  One only needs to look at how Monsanto has sued American farmers for millions of dollars for seed saving, and the pressure they have exerted on the Argentine government to put new Monsanto-friendly patent laws in place.  Africa could be headed towards these dangerous trends if the implications of patented GM crops are not fully understood by all concerned.

Best wishes,


*********************************************** 1. Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal? Article from the African Executive.  Date: 28 June - 05 July 2006 Teresa Anderson gazine=76 2. Ethiopia: The Controversy Over Genetically Modified Crops Article from The Reporter (Ethiopia).  Date: 1 July 2006 Melaku Demissie 3. India: Patented Seeds Edge out Local Varieties Article from Inter Press News Service.  Date: 26 June 2006 Keya Acharya 4. Monsanto vs Farmers Executive Summary of Report by Center for Food Safety (US).  Date: January 2005 ******************************************

1. Patented GM Crops: Making Seed Saving Illegal?

Article from the African Executive.  Date: 28 June - 05 July 2006 Teresa Anderson gazine=76

Among much talk of the future of GM crops in Africa, among the claims of higher yields, pest resistance and solutions to hunger, and the acknowledgement of the risks to health, environment and markets, there is a consistent and glaring omission from the GM debate. While ministers, scientists and policy makers talk of Biosafety frameworks, and the costs and benefits of GMOs, all seem blind to the issue which is of most concern to African farmers: the issue of patented GM crops and how this will affect farmers' rights to save seed.

GM crops are patented by multinational companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta. Patenting, or claiming of intellectual property rights (IPRs) means that farmers who buy GM seeds are forbidden from seed saving by law, and must buy new seed from the company each season. GM crops are significantly more expensive than conventional or hybrid crops. In India, for example, Monsanto's Bt cotton can be three times the price of conventional cotton seed.

The implications of patented GM seeds for African farmers should not be underestimated. Saved seed is the one resource that the poorest depend upon to carry them through the year. If they are forbidden to save their seed and must pay up to triple the costs of buying new seed each season, the costs of growing food will become prohibitive. The claims of lowered production costs do not stand up to scrutiny. Neither are the yields of GM crops sufficient to recover the costs.

It is ironic (or inappropriate) that while GM purports to help to solve hunger and poverty in Africa, it may instead place an impossible burden on the poorest farmers, the very people at whom this technology is supposedly aimed.

Very few African farmers are aware that patented GM crops will make seed saving illegal. Even policy makers seem largely unaware or uninterested in this fact. This glaring omission needs to be addressed, to help governments and farmers make policy from an informed position.

International NGOs working on food security issues are in agreement that patented GM crops present a serous threat to farmers and food rights. Organisations such as Action Aid , Christian Aid , Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) and even the UK Government's own Commission on Intellectual Property Rights all warn of the negative consequences to seed saving, food sovereignty and farmers' rights should patented GM crops be accepted in developing countries. However, these warnings have been consistently ignored by the majority of the media and policymakers in Africa.

According to GRAIN, the patenting of crops "is an attempt to privatize Africa's innovative practices and biological resources and reorganize its seed markets for the benefit of foreign corporations. Africa's farmers and the abundant knowledge and plant diversity they have nurtured are bound to be trampled over in the process, threatening Africa's already fragile food security."

"Africa's farmers, like all small farmers around the world, will be affected most directly by any consequences. Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties already affecting Africa's small farmers."

Monsanto is evidently serious about ensuring that no-one saves their GM seed, and that farmers are forced to buy from them each season. The Center for Food Safety report "Monsanto vs Farmers" documents Monsanto's lawsuits against American farmers, revealing thousands of investigations, nearly 100 lawsuits and numerous bankruptcies.

"CFS found that Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed."

According to CFS, "the largest recorded judgment made thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is $3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid a mean of $412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments." However this does not tell the full story, as many farmers have chosen to settle out of court and pay Monsanto rather than undergo trial. They are obliged to sign confidentiality agreements - which mean they are forbidden to talk about their experiences.

As disturbing as this may already be, the implications for patented GM crops go further than just forbidden seed saving. When Monsanto patents a GM crop, they are actually patenting the gene from a different species which they have transferred into the crop (e.g. the pesticide-producing gene from a bacteria, which is inserted into maize and cotton, to make Bt maize and Bt cotton.) Should a GM crop cross-pollinate with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighbouring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighbouring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else's GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it.

There is a well-known case where a Canadian farmer's canola (oilseed rape) fields were accidentally contaminated by pollen from someone else's GM crops. Monsanto came onto his land to test his crops, and found that their patented gene had contaminated the canola that he had been developing for 50 years. They sued him. Percy Schmeiser is one of the few farmers who chose to fight his case in the courts, but according to Canadian patent law, he was found guilty of patent infringement, even though it was clear that there was nothing he could have done to prevent the contamination. Practically his only option to avoid breaking the law, was to stop growing his own seed, and buy Monsanto's GM seed himself.

North American law on patents and intellectual property rights is particularly favorable to Monsanto's interests, but currently not all African countries have similar patent and intellectual property laws on seed. This fact might, for a time, persuade African policymakers that they have nothing to fear. However, there is constant international pressure on countries to implement national IPR laws that are consistent with treaties such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which allow for protection of seed companies' rights, but do not protect the rights of farmers to save seed.

South Africa is the only African country that currently allows GM crops to be grown commercially. Complementing their GMO Act (which has been criticized for facilitating GMO acceptance instead of implementing careful regulation), South Africa's patent laws protect Monsanto's interests and forbids the saving of GM seeds. South African farmers growing GM crops must sign a "Technology Agreement" that signs away their rights to save seed. Even illiterate farmers have been signing these agreements, although there is doubt that many of them understand what they are agreeing to.

Other African countries are currently in the process of debating GM acceptance, and develop their Biosafety laws for GM crop regulation. Parallel to this, foreign companies and institutions are calling for IPR legislation. There is chance that given sufficient influence from industry, new laws may be developed that will make seed saving illegal.

One country that chose to accept GM crops, whilst refusing to adapt patent law to meet Monsanto's wishes, was Argentina. Monsanto's GM Roundup Ready Soya, developed to be resistant to Roundup herbicide, entered the Argentine market at a time when the country had decided to focus its agriculture towards soya for exports. By subsidizing the Roundup, not patenting the crops, and allowing extensive contamination, GM soya took over 95% of the soya market. The social costs of this takeover were considerable -the herbicide-resistant technology was favorable to the largest Agribusiness farms whose farms expanded to tens of thousands of hectares, while hundreds of thousands of farming families were forced off the land to become unemployed in the cities.

Once Monsanto controlled the nation's soya economy in this way, they threatened to cut off the seed supply if the Argentine government did not implement patent law, help Monsanto to recoup their royalties, make GM seed saving illegal, and put an end to the black market. A government proposal for a "Technology Compensation Fund" that would levy a charge on farmers selling their soybean harvests, in order to return the equivalent of the royalty charges to the GM Company, is currently stuck in Congress due to resistance from farming groups. Now Monsanto's new strategy is to block exports when ships carrying exported soybeans arrive in a different country, until their demands for royalty payments are met. Argentina is currently planning to take legal action against Monsanto as the company blocks soya shipments to Spain from reaching the European Union.

The case of Argentina can also serve as a warning to African countries about how GM agriculture can grant a single company extensive control over a country's food and seed supply. The fact that the Argentine government was willing to create the "Technology Compensation Fund" - essentially a new tax that would go directly into Monsanto's pocket - shows the political power that this control can afford.

Taken together, evidence suggests that GM companies like Monsanto and Syngenta are serious about enforcing their patent protection systems. They argue that they can only justify the many millions of dollars spent in developing GM crops, if they can ensure their continued profits. By patenting their seeds, charging high prices, and forbidding seed saving, they can certainly protect their own interests. But this will come at a heavy cost to farmers, particularly the poorest. Patented GM seeds present a significant threat to food security and livelihoods of the 80% of small farmers in Africa who use saved seed.

It is now time for policy makers to openly recognize and talk about the fact that GM crops are patented. They must consider whether such a system of agriculture will truly address the needs of the poor and hungry. Or will patented GM and illegal seed saving instead compromise Africa's food security, seed diversity, and the livelihoods of its farmers?


2. Ethiopia: The Controversy Over Genetically Modified Crops

Article from The Reporter (Ethiopia).  Date: 1 July 2006 Melaku Demissie

(Addis Ababa) - A recent CNN report says that while many scientists and environmental groups claim the cultivation of genetically modified organisms will have severe ecological and health consequences, advocates of the technology claim with equal vigor that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will feed the world and improve human health and well- being.

There is also another concern from Africa. Researchers say that GM crops are coming in by way of food imports and seed smuggling, even for countries that have taken measures to prevent imports of GM foods, such as Zambia, Angola, Sudan and Benin. In short, the researchers argue that Africa is in danger of becoming the dumping ground for the struggling GM industry and the laboratory for frustrated GM scientists.

Mr. Zachary Makanya, in his well-researched paper entitled "12 reasons for Africa to reject GM crops", says that the proponents of GM technology sell a sweet message of GM crops as the second green revolution and the answer to African hunger, but the reality is quite different. "A close look at GM crops and the context under which they are developed makes it clear that GM crops have no place in African agriculture," he said.

Greeen Peace also states firmly that it believes GMOs should not be released into the environment as there is not adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health. But Monsanto, who dominate 90 percent of the global market in GMOs say on their website, "Crop improvements like [GMOs] can help provide an abundant healthful food supply and protect our environment for future generations."

According to CNN, the problem is complex. Just like nuclear power, genetic modification is a branch of science that has attracted a huge amount of controversy and fierce debate, with both sides claiming the stakes are high.

GMOs are the on the frontline of one of the biggest conflicts of recent years between the science-business community and activist groups. Many of these feel that, in addition to environmental concerns, with four big multinational companies dominating the global bio-tech market, the proliferation of patented GMOs will give corporations an unhealthy control over food production.

Apart from other problems related to GMOs, researchers say that GM crops will foster dependence on a corporate seed supply. Most GM seed manufacturing companies prohibit farmers from saving their on-farm produced seeds for the next season and from sharing them with their neighbors, relatives and friends. This is imposed through elaborate contracts, agreements, and conditions, which are imposed by the multinational GM seed companies.

There is a study that says that more than 80 percent of the small-scale farmers in Africa today save their on-farm produced seeds for the next season. Farmers sometimes do this because they do not have enough money to buy new seeds and sometimes because they value their own seeds. Also, seed sharing is a crucial norm in many African communities. The fear is that the introduction of GM seeds will jeopardize these traditional and vital practices.

One of the greatest fears in the business of the GMOs is a question of patent right. Mr. Zachary Makanya says that transnational corporations own nearly 100 percent of the agricultural biotechnology patents and the majority of these are controlled by a handful of pesticide corporations. These companies will use their patents to block research that does not suit their interests and to trap farmers into paying them royalities every year on seeds and into a never-ending dependence on their chemical inputs.

An Ethiopian environmentalist, Ayele Kebede, from Forum for Environment, in his paper presented last week at a workshop on 'Impact of GMOs on Environment and Seed Diversity,' says that the free exchange of seeds among farmers has been the basis of biodiversity and food security for millennia. "It gives us the diversity of plants that provides us nutrition. But by 1990, biotechnology became more profitable than chemical weapons."

Ayele notes that the giant chemical companies, clearly began "repositioning themselves as life science" companies whose goal was to control agriculture. "In 1997, Monsanto spun off its chemical division and spent six billion dollars acquiring seed companies like Cargil International Seed and Dekalb Genetics. Dupont spun off its petroleum division, Conocs, and formed USD 1.7 billion 'research alliance' with Pioneer-Hi-Bred International, the world's largest seed company." Another giant company, Aventis, bought Plant Genetic Systems, which already had patents on strains of corn and wheat.

According to Ayele, the patenting of biotechnology concentrates ownership and control of the sector in the hands of a few private firms. "Some 80 percent of patents on GMO foods are owned by only 13 giant companies, and the top five agro-chemical companies control almost the entire genetically modified seed market."

The environmentalist says seed saving gives farmers life, and seed monopolies rob farmers of life and makes a free resources available on farm, a commodity to which farmers are forced to buy every year. This is a shift from biodiversity to monoculture in agriculture, and monoculture increases the risk of crop failure. "This is an assault on our culture, our human right, our very nature. It is a major seed and food insecurity. Patents on seed and biodiversity is intellectual property crime. This is unjust and unethical," he added.

Though there is a general consensus that GM crops will contaminate non-GM crops; will increase the use of chemicals; threaten organic and sustainable farming; will not reduce hunger in Africa; will not resolve problems with pests; and they are threat to human health; many researchers in the field suggest that Africans can provide African solutions to African problems. Outsiders may help, but the insiders, those who are affected, must do the job.


3. India: Patented Seeds Edge out Local Varieties

Article from Inter Press News Service.  Date: 26 June 2006 Keya Acharya

''Earlier, there were no 'outside' fertilisers or seeds. There were no (plant) diseases and we were happy", recalls 83-year-old Chandrappa, farming for the last 60 years on his family's five acres in the black cotton-soil heartland of this southern Indian State.

But today, half a century of farming later, Chandrappa will have nothing to do with his own seeds. "The yield is less, so we prefer buying seeds," he says.

A group of 20-odd farmers, faces crusted with the vicissitudes of working the soil, sit cross-legged on the village temple floor at Byalahalli, 25 kilometres from Chitradurga, and echo Chandrappa's sentiments. "The 'Raitha Sangha' (a political party floated by farmers) has been telling us about how the new Seed Act will harm us, but no one is bothering," says 50-year-old Rajappa.

India has tabled a controversial Seeds Bill (2004) in Parliament that would allow foreign companies to be directly involved with small farmers. Large multinational corporations (MNCs) are now attracting Indian farmers through an aggressive extension network that promises seeds with bigger yields and better profits.

"This is an absolute no-no,'' says Suman Sahai of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Gene Campaign. ''It overrides the farmer's rights clauses put into the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVP) of 2001. First let this Act be implemented and then bring in the seed bill."

The PVP Act authorises farmers to buy registered seeds with the option of saving and selling them, besides offering compensation for failed seed. The single biggest reason why the PVP has not been implemented, says Sahai, is corporate influence -- that is now pushing the seed bill.

According to international campaigner for biodiversity, Vandana Shiva, the new legislation has the potential of destroying forever India's vast biodiversity in seeds and crops, and take away the independence of farmers in a country of one 1.2 billion people, the majority of whom are engaged in agriculture. ''Once farmers lose control over their own seeds they will be pushed into dependency on patented seeds which are controlled by MNCs,'' Shiva told IPS.

Over centuries, Indian farmers, on a vast subcontinent with its vastly varied agro-climatic conditions, have evolved a bewildering variety of indigenous seeds capable of resisting, floods, droughts, salination and frost.

But farmers, already aware of the higher yields possible from impressive public-sector high-yielding varieties, now look to private hybrids to fill in where public-sector hybrids are failing due to intensive chemical inputs, loss of soil fertility and disease.

Larger farmers are equally unperturbed about losing their own germplasm. "I am not worried; we will go buy seed from the government, if we don't have our own", says farmer Eashappa Desai at Asundi village in an adjoining district.

Desai, who owns 40 acres of rich farmland highlights the trust that farmers still repose on the government's public-sector seeds.

But the rapid dominance of proprietary seeds, helped by India's industrial policy in 1991 that greatly liberalised the import of vegetable and flowers seeds in general and other commodity seeds in a restricted manner, has led to a decline in public sector research and production of seeds.

The volume of public-bred hybrids came down to 38,704 tons in 1998-99 from 59,671 tons in 1990-91 while private investment in research simultaneously quadrupled between 1986 and 1998.

Instead, subsidiaries and joint ventures with multinational companies accounted for 30% of all private seed industry research till five years ago.

Acquisitions of Indian companies by prominent agricultural corporates such as AgrEvo, Monsanto and Nunhems and their corresponding mergers in the global seed market has made foreign corporate dominance in Indian agriculture an emerging phenomenon. Monsanto's recent acquisition of vegetable giant, the US-based Seminis Seeds, has now made it the world's largest seed company.

The seed bill allows dominance of foreign and private companies through such methods as 'contract farming' wherein the farmer is hired to grow produce with proprietary, supplied seeds, exclusively for the hirer.

While contract-farming has aroused controversy because of exploitative terms, farmers in Karnataka who grow 'contract-gherkins' find the seed, soil inputs and pre-fixed rates an attractive system.

"We get more money from this crop than from ragi (a local cereal),'' say Siddesh and his mother Pushpavati who growing gherkins on a one acre plot at Kattehalli, near the adjoining district of Davangere. The family's holdings of 8 acres make them 'big' farmers in their village, able to grow staples on their remaining acreage.

But smaller Indian agricultural contract-farming enterprises are dismayed at the seed bill's plan to permit the entry of MNCs into Indian agriculture.

"Large corporates are applying aggressive trade practices to create a dependence on their seeds which offer immediate yields, but are not necessarily the best quality. It is difficult to make the farmer see long-term interests in this scenario," says Gopal Rao Girish, general manager of agricultural extension in the Indian company, Green Agro Pack.

Green Agro Pack's managing director, B.M. Devaiah says the farmer's mindset of immediate returns without worrying about consequences is also responsible for the loss of interest in local seeds. Similarly, he says, Indian research institutes are not interested in undertaking research that is not donor-driven.

"I can't worry about what will happen because I am not saving seed for tomorrow, "says V.S. Patil of Ukkunda village. " Who knows, there might be a tsunami before that. This is our fate.''

"The government needs to pay urgent attention to the lack of research in indigenously produced seeds in today's market," says Devaiah givingChina's successful example of using indigenous seeds.

The director of India's reputed Karnataka-based Namdhari Seed, V.S. Rao agrees with Devaiah's view that farmers are in a hurry, not giving the land adequate rest. "It's all related to cashing in on external 'help' factors like fertiliser subsidies and high market-rates," he says.

Farmers are also rushing to buy seeds for crops with good market prices, resulting in a glut that is ironically pushing prices down, pointing to the lack of guidance by India's agriculture department.

But Rao remains optimistic, speaking of the government's new attempt at countering this trend by adopting 'seed villages' wherein each village plans its own crops.

Rao urges the government to collaborate with indigenous seed enterprises, suggesting that government provide the research structure and leave field application to industry. "Both get credit whilst farmers' interests are looked after. It's a win-win situation.''


4. Monsanto vs Farmers

Executive Summary of Report by Center for Food Safety (US).  Date: January 2005

 In May 2003, the Center for Food Safety embarked on a project to determine the extent to which American farmers have been impacted by litigation arising from the use of patented genetically engineered crops. After extensive research and numerous interviews with farmers and lawyers, CFS found that Monsanto, the world's leading agricultural biotechnology company, has used heavy-handed investigations and ruthless prosecutions that have fundamentally changed the way many American farmers farm. The result has been nothing less than an assault on the foundations of farming practices and traditions that have endured for centuries in this country and millennia around the world, including one of the oldest, the right to save and replant crop seed.   

Monsanto's position as a leader in the field of agricultural biotechnology and its success in contractually binding farmers to its genetically engineered seeds result from its concerted effort to control patents on genetic engineering technology, seed germplasm, and a farmer's use of its engineered seed. Monsanto begins the process of seizing control of farmers' practices by getting them to sign the company's technology agreement upon purchasing patented seeds. This agreement allows Monsanto to conduct property investigations, exposes the farmer to huge financial liability, binds the farmer to Monsanto's oversight for multiple years, and includes a variety of other conditions that have effectively defined what rights a farmer does and does not have in planting, harvesting, and selling genetically engineered seed.

In general, Monsanto's efforts to prosecute farmers can be divided into three stages: investigations of farmers, out-of-court settlements, and litigation against farmers Monsanto believes are in breach of contract or engaged in patent infringement. Monsanto itself admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects of transgressions, and evidence suggests the numbers reach into the thousands. According to farmers interviewed by CFS, these thousands of investigations frequently lead to the second stage: Monsanto pressuring the farmer to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum and other terms agreed to in confidential settlements.

For some farmers, Monsanto's investigation of them will lead to the courtroom. To date, Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers. The lawsuits involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies, and have been directed at farmers residing in half of the states in the U.S. The odds are clearly stacked against the farmer: Monsanto has an annual budget of $10 million dollars and a staff of 75 devoted solelyto investigating and prosecuting farmers. 4

The largest recorded judgment made thus far in favor of Monsanto as a result of a farmer lawsuit is $3,052,800.00. Total recorded judgments granted to Monsanto for lawsuits amount to $15,253,602.82. Farmers have paid a mean of $412,259.54 for cases with recorded judgments.

Startling though these numbers are, they do not begin to tell the whole story. Many farmers have to pay additional court and attorney fees and are sometimes even forced to pay the costs Monsanto incurs while investigating them. Final monetary awards are not available for a majority of the 90 lawsuits CFS researched due to the confidential nature of many of the settlements.  

No farmer is safe from the long reach of Monsanto. Farmers have been sued after their field was contaminated by pollen or seed from someone else's genetically engineered crop; when genetically engineered seed from a previous year's crop has sprouted, or "volunteered," in fields planted with non-genetically engineered varieties the following year; and when they never signed Monsanto's technology agreement but still planted the patented crop seed. In all of these cases, because of the way patent law has been applied, farmers are technically liable. It does not appear to matter if the use was unwitting or a contract was never signed.

Since the introduction of genetically engineered crops, farming for thousands of America's farmers has been fundamentally altered; they have been forced into dangerous and uncharted territory and have found they are the worse for it. As growing numbers of farmers become subject to harassment, investigation, and prosecution by Monsanto over supposed infringementof its seed patents and technology agreements, there will have to be increased pressure to reverse the governmental policies that are allowing this persecution. Various policy options include passing local and state-wide bans or moratoriumson plantings of genetically engineered crops; amending the Patent Act so that genetically engineered plants will no longer be patentable subject matter and so that seed saving is not considered patent infringement; and legislating to prevent farmers from being liable for patent infringement through biological pollution. Implementation of these, and a variety of other options discussed in more detail in the report, is critical. Nothing less than the future of America's farmers and farming communities is at stake. 5 Monsant o vs. U.S. F armers


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