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Monsanto's Bad Seeds

Monsanto and its affiliates are probably the last place a consumer would want to source their seeds from right now. The corporate behemoth has made it clear that its intent is to control as much of the world's seeds as possible. The corporation, already one of the leading patent owners of the world's diverse seeds, recently acquired Seminis, the largest seed vendor on the planet. Monsanto is also the leading producer of genetically modified seeds. Its most popular genetically modified seeds on the market create a plant that is resistant to the company's own Roundup (glyphosate) pesticide.

This allows farmers/gardeners to spray their plants with a nearly endless stream of the pesticide, killing off everything living near the plants while building up high levels of pesticide residues on the food portion of the plant.

Monsanto is also the lead purveyor of the "Terminator" technology. A non-reproductive trait is genetically engineered into a seed so that a plant is created with sterile seeds, thereby forcing farmers to buy seed year after year, rather than save seeds from each year's crops. The major environmental concern with this technology is that the trait could spread through the plant's pollen to nearby wild plants, thus passing a sort of suicide trait into the world's natural botanical ecosystems. Monsanto claims it has a right to implement such technologies in order to ensure the company gets paid annually for its seed fees, known as technology fees. Monsanto currently employs a system wherein farmers are given rewards if they report a neighboring farmer who has collected Monsanto seeds from the previous year's crops for reuse. When purchasing Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds, a farmer must sign a contract that states that s/he will not save any seed. Monsanto successfully sues U.S. farmers for millions of dollars each year for reusing the company's seeds.

An ongoing case in Canada, between Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto, depicts the contentious aspects of these legal disputes. Schmeiser is a canola farmer that never bought Monsanto seeds. Schmeiser's neighbor's crop pollen drifted into Schmeiser's field, thereby creating plants with Monsanto's genetically-modified traits. Monsanto successfully sued Schmeiser for using Monsanto's technology, even though he never intentionally introduced it to his own fields.

Monsanto's intent to control the world's seed supply has resulted in dozens of annual international legal disputes wherein the corporation has successfully secured legal patents for seeds of plants grown indigenously everywhere from South American to Africa to India. For example, in 2004, Monsanto was contentiously awarded patents on a traditional native Indian wheat used for making chapati meaning the company now has legal right to demand payment every time a farmer/gardener grows this traditional variety of Nap Hal wheat. When gardening, try to buy only organic seeds.

To find out more about the campaign against Monsanto, see OrganicConsumers.org. ||

Craig Minowa is an environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association