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Who Can Own Life? Farmer vs. Monsanto Before US High Court

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Farm Issues page.

Indiana soybean farmer, Hugh Bowman, is taking his one-man-war against agriculture giant Monsanto to the Supreme Court on Tuesday where both sides will present their arguments (.pdf) to the high court. The suit calls into question essential patent rights and, more importantly, challenges whether anyone can legally "control a product of life."

A Monsanto customer for years, 75-year-old Bowman devotedly bought and planted their genetically modified (gm) 'Roundup Ready' soybean seeds each year. He crossed the corporation in 2007 when they accused Bowman of infringing on their seed patents after he planted an unmarked mix of soybeans which he purchased from a local grain elevator that supposedly contained the Monsanto gene.

After being ordered to pay $84,000, Bowman is appealing the charge and bringing his case to the high court where he will present before the chief justices, including former Monsanto attorney Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Bowman vs. Monsanto Co. will be decided based on the court's interpretation of a complex web of seed and plant patent law," writes Debbie Barker, Program Director for Save Our Seeds (SOS), and George Kimbrell, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety (CFS), in an op-ed published Tuesday, "but the case also reflects something much more basic: Should anyone, or any corporation, control a product of life?"

They continue:

 [Monsanto's] logic is troubling to many who point out that it is the nature of seeds and all living things, whether patented or not, to replicate. Monsanto's claim that it has rights over a self-replicating natural product should raise concern. Seeds, unlike computer chips, for example, are essential to life. If people are denied a computer chip, they don't go hungry. If people are denied seeds, the potential consequences are much more threatening.

The case has garnered national attention as it touches upon an essential debate between corporate ownership versus essential rights and sustainability.

In a supporting brief filed by the sustainable food advocacy group, the Center for Food Safety (CFS), they argue that intellectual property rules have spurred the privatization and concentration of the world's seed supply with only ten companies controlling nearly two-thirds of all commercial seed for major crops, effectively driving up prices and dangerously limiting the variety of seeds planted.