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Farmers to Monsanto: Save our seeds

Eastern Washington farmers are increasingly worried about agricultural invasion from Monsanto's unwanted genetically modified and patent-protected seeds, which can threaten a farm's organic status and land them in court. Now a national coalition of independent farmers is fighting back.


Four generations of Robinettes on Lazy R Ranch. Maurice Robinette is top right.

Four generations of Robinettes on Lazy R Ranch. Maurice Robinette is top right. Lazy R Ranch

Lazy R Ranch sits just outside of Spokane and raises grass fed and grass-finished beef, as they have since 1937. This fourth-generation family farm is run by a father-daughter team and, while the ranch is not yet officially certified organic (the process requires three years of documented farming practices), they have been farming the land sustainably for many years. Still there is one thing that could put all of their work to achieve organic certification in jeopardy.

“I am very concerned about genetically modified seed,” ranch owner Maurice Robinette explains. 

For Lazy R Ranch to maintain organic certification, they must feed their cattle with organic feed — specifically alfalfa. Finding and growing organic alfalfa to feed his cattle, however, is likely going to get more complicated for Robinette in coming years.

That's because genetically modified alfalfa is a patented GMO crop of Forage Genetics (owned by Monsanto Corporation), and in recent years it has been planted across a thousand acres of Washington — most densely in the Columbia Basin, Kittitas County, and down around Walla Walla.

“I suspect contamination is inevitable,” laments Robinette. “Someone nearby will plant GMO alfalfa or someone will unknowingly sell me contaminated alfalfa and accidentally contaminate me. It is genetic trespass and there is nothing you can do about it — bees will pollinate wherever they want to. You can’t stop them.”

In the event Lazy R Ranch is contaminated, Robinette would have to take extreme measures to eradicate the seed from his land; the mere presence of GMO seed on the ranch would threaten his organic certification.  “I’m worried that genetic trespass may result in a loss of my customers who buy my beef precisely because there are no GMOs in it,” stated Robinette. The ranch is his sole livelihood, and that of his family. 

“I’d have to kill every alfalfa plant on the ranch and start over. Once it’s in the environment, it’s here. You can’t get rid of it.”

Because Lazy R Ranch does not ‘own’ genetically modified seed, they could also face a patent lawsuit from  Forage Genetics, which is the world’s largest producer of alfalfa seed. Only an approved farm may purchase and plant GMO alfalfa from Forage and their website clearly states that “unlicensed commercial harvest, sale or uses of patent protected seed are violations of state and federal laws.”

While seed varieties are not traditionally owned by individuals (any farm can plant a beefsteak tomato if so inclined), Monsanto is changing that. The corporation has been producing its own form of patented genetically modified seed since the 1970s. Today it is the leading national producer of patented GMO seed and provides technology in 90% of the genetically engineered seeds used in the U.S. Market.

And Monsanto is serious about its patents – sometimes subjecting small farmers across the country to legal persecution for patent infringement. According to the Monsanto website, the company has filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States. Of these, the company has proceeded through trial with eleven farmers — all of which were won by Monsanto. This does not, of course, include any farmers wherein an official suit was never filed. Some count these numbers into the thousands.

The most well-known of these is likely Moe Parr, a seed cleaner from Indiana who was sued for saving Monsanto seed. His story was highlighted in the award-winning film Food, Inc as an example of the intense financial pressure Monsanto is capable of applying. Eventually, mounting legal fees and bills forced Parr to settle out of court. 

Few if any farmers ‘win’ and they are often overcome by lawyer bills and legal fees. As Robinette puts it, “It is really frustrating to see them never lose. They have so much money and so much power and they hire the very best people and throw a lot of money at (these cases).” 

This past spring, however, some farmers started fighting back.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Aug 24, 10:11 a.m. Inappropriate

If Monsanto has established precedent that they hold farmers responsible for having GMO on their land, then it seems like the farmers should be able to equally hold Monsanto responsible for their land being invaded by GMO when it is not wanted.

Posted Wed, Aug 24, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree farmers should be able to hold Monsanto accountable for contaminating their properties with both GMO products and Roundup. Why is it that when people clearly do not want foods grown from or containing GMO materials, the government doesn't take OUR side but instead stands silent as Monsanto apparently contaminates our food supplies and manufacturers continue to include it in our foodstuffs?

It appears that Monsanto's aim is to create an annual market for its patented seeds thereby forcing everyone to eat foodstuffs grown from them and driving organic farmers out of the marketplace. Certainly a farmer should have a right to save seeds and plant as s/he wishes without interference from a behemoth like Monsanto. And consumers are making it clear that they don't want foods with GMO components. Yet we can't seem to even get decent food labeling laws, let alone justice and a fair shake for the farmers. I don't want Monsanto controlling the farmers that produce my foods or the genetic makeup of the foods I eat.

mspat

Posted Fri, Aug 26, 7:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Congratulations to the Farmers in taking the battle to Monsanto and all success to them. Their battle to keep food that goes onto our tables free from GMO, is our battle, and not only in the US but in many other countries.

Monsanto has, unfortunately grown into a the major GM Seed producer, and this is the danger, for whoever controls nour food, controls the people. This cannot be allowed to happen. It has been proved many times over that GMO does not increase the yield, far from it, it has cost the lives of thousands of Indian Farmers who got into debt with the purchase of GM Seeds and when the crop failed were deep into debt that they could pay off. Many decided to drink the poisonous RoundUP, also mad by Monsanto.

Good luck in your campaign.

LenAldis

Posted Fri, Aug 26, 3:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Monsanto has been very naughty in the way it treats farmers, to say nothing of consumers, and I applaud OSGATA and any endeavor to put Monsanto into their place and teach them some manners, and ethics, is something I welcome whole-heartedly.

smacgry

Posted Wed, Aug 31, 10:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Anyone who watched the recent Frontline program about Monsanto's warfare on farmers who try to save their seeds knows that the battle has been won, and not by the right side.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Sep 8, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

It is completely ridiculous the supreme court ever opened the door for this without even placing reasonable restrictions of quarantine. Where else is there no responsibility to protect legal rights of the right holder?
Monsanto makes no effort to protect the accidental and inevitable spread of its patents without their knowledge, but instead wants it as a way to gain market share. An analogy would be a company mailing cash unsolicited and wanting it back. In reality they are freely allowing their GMO to be given to unwilling farmers then suing for damages. Negligence should never be an opportunity to profit by filing lawsuits.

Completely ridiculous, unconstitutional and hypocritical.

This needs to go back up to the supreme court and they need to eat their mistake.

erikked

Posted Thu, Sep 8, 9:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh yea, and did anyone point to the fact that there are not competing patents of these crops? If there is only one gene changed, someone else could patent another gene and it would be over.

erikked

Posted Thu, Oct 20, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

THANK YOU ALL for your comments on this. (Better late than never, right?) I am happy to spread the word!

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