Information NELSON vs. MONSANTO

Commissioner Roger Johnson     Professor E. Ann Clark     David Dechant     Don Baldwin

Monsanto's action against the Nelson family and others is gaining attention throughout the country.  Many who've read of their plight question Monsanto's reasoning and have voiced their support through letter writing.  Below are several "Letters to the Editor" that have appeared in various magazines and news publications.

Farmer's Rights Must Be Protected
Balance of rights needed between those who develop technology and those who use it

Monday, June 18, 2001
By Roger Johnson 
ND Agriculture Commissioner

Bismarck, ND - Recently, the St. Louis-based agrichemical giant Monsanto Co. wrote to the editor that appeared in the May 21 issue of AgWeek defending both its lawsuit against Nelson Farms of Amenia, ND, and it decision to forego an appearance before the North Dakota Seed Arbitration Board.

Monsanto is suing Nelson Farms, claiming violation of the terms under which the Nelsons bought Monsanto's patented soybean seeds.

In its letter to the AgWeek, Monsanto says "while we would prefer to resolve disputes of this sort without going to court, we have an obligation to uphold our patents and to preserve a level playing field..."  That statement is disingenuous, for Monsanto's actions certainly paint a different picture.

No restrictions on kinds of cases

As chairman of the arbitration board, I take exception to Monsanto's claims that the board, I take exception to Monsanto's claims that the board is authorized to hear only seed labeling or seed performance issues and that patent cases are exclusively a matter for the federal courts.

North Dakota law places no restrictions on the kinds of seed cases that may be brought before the board, and almost any civil dispute, including patent infringement cases, can be handled through arbitration with the prior agreement of all parties.  The intent of the law is to resolve disputes outside of the courts.  In any case, the decisions of the board are nonbinding.

Monsanto announced its decision the day before the hearing.  The hearing was nevertheless held as scheduled before a state administrative law judge and the board, and the Nelsons presented evidence that suggests no wrongdoing on their part.  I say "suggests" because Monsanto chose not to attend and refute that evidence or present its own evidence.

All of this casts doubt on Monsanto's claim of wanting to avoid court action.  On the contrary, it raises strong suspicion that the company wants this lawsuit very much.  It likely will be prohibitively expensive for the Nelsons (or for any other farmer) to defend themselves in a federal court more than 1,000 miles from their farm.  Paying a battalion of lawyers is mere chicken feed for a company like Monsanto, especially when the courtroom is in their own back yard.

Opted for federal court

It is unfortunate that Monsanto chose not to present its case at a legislatively created forum in North Dakota, resolution in federal court.  It would have demonstrated that the company wants to deal with its customers in a forthright manner.

I long have been and continue to be a supporter of the development and use of new agricultural technologies.  However, the rights of farmers much be protected as these technologies come on the market and all parties must be treated fairly.  There must be a balance of power between those who develop and hold rights to the technology and those who pay to use it.

Editor's Note:  Johnson is North Dakota's agriculture commissioner.

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Canadian Professor Speaks Out On Percy Schmeiser Decision
E. Ann Clark, a professor of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, offers her perspective on the Canadian federal court ruling against Percy Schmeiser.

CropChoice opinion
March 30, 2001


To all the farmers and farm organizations that applauded the prosecution of Schmeiser two years ago, and have since sat back and watched him swinging in the wind waiting for judgment:

a. he was not found guilty of brown bagging or improperly buying or stealing Monsanto seed - indeed, those highly publicized allegations were dropped at the actual hearing stage due to a complete lack of evidence,

b. he was found guilty of having Monsanto genetics on his land,

c. it's doubtful whether there's a farm anywhere in western Canada that does not have Monsanto Roundup Ready canola seed in its soil,

d. if you have it, you are to call Monsanto and they are to come out and deal with it. How, pray tell, are they going to do this - by plucking out the offending plants one by one - for up to 10 years after each contamination event occurred (canola seed can remain dormant under western Canadian conditions including no-till) - during which time you are disallowed from growing canola because if you do, and volunteer Monsanto canola emerges, sets seed, and shatters, it all starts over again?

e. is Monsanto going to come out to your fields not just in the spring prior to planting, but throughout the season, because canola can germinate anytime? Are they going to absorb all costs of these service calls, or will they charge you for it?

f. if you have it, and you call Monsanto to come and clean out your Monsanto genetics, what is to stop them from prosecuting you, as they did Schmeiser?

g. if you do not join in an appeal of this decision - and ensure that the judge that hears the appeal has at least a rudimentary understanding of plant reproductive biology, and has heard of StarLink corn, and that a scientifically sound and defensible decision is made - then you deserve what will most surely happen to you and your neighbors.

To put this into a perspective that everyone can visualize, imagine that the government were to come up with a new law, stating a) that all male calves shall remain intact (not castrated), and b) that all fences must come down.

Imagine further that two-thirds of these calves carry a deleterious trait that reduces the valuation of their progeny. Consider the chaos that would result in the beef and dairy industries.

This is an apt analogy for what government has done by prematurely authorizing the release of transgenic, open-pollinated crops - like corn and canola. Pollen moves, as do bulls. There is no way to build a fence high enough to keep pollen - whether from StarLink corn or from herbicide tolerant-canola - from moving into your land from neighboring fields. Pollen carries transgenic as well as natural traits, and two-thirds of the canola sown in Canada last year was herbicide-tolerant. Pollen has always moved, but for the first time in history, pollen carries deleterious traits - both because of the traits themselves but also, because the pollen carries proprietary genes.

Wake up folks, and see the writing on the wall, as revealed by this remarkably incomprehensible judgment.

E. Ann Clark
Associate Professor
Plant Agriculture
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ont. Canada
N1G 2W1

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March 29, 2001

Dear Elected Official:

As your constituent, I would like to tell you about something that disturbs me greatly; something that I believe neither Congress nor our founding fathers, upon providing for patents in the Constitution, ever would have wanted to happen.

Farmers in the US are losing their historic and sacred right to save seed for their own use. Presently, Monsanto is prosecuting over 400 farmers in the US for saving seed, an unprecedented act. Moreover, in addition to genetically modified seed, companies are patenting non-genetically modified seed these days, as are our public research institutions. Incredibly, farmers might even be prosecuted someday for saving publicly developed seed!

There is a grassroots group called Farmers Save - Our - Seed, out of Tupelo, Mississippi, which is fighting seed saving prohibitions. I support it fully.  Farmers SOS is urging people to write Congress to amend the patent law so that patents on seeds cannot be used to escape or override the clause in the Plant Variety Protection Act, which allows farmers to save seed for our own use.  Therefore, I too, am asking you to please consider so amending the patent law.

Patents on seeds are not benefiting the American farmers. Rather, they are hurting them.  For one, as long as we have an inelastic demand for our crops, and patented crops cause either a production increase or demand decrease, like the patented GMOs have already done, seed saving prohibitions do nothing more than put an extra burden on us that we are increasingly less capable of bearing. In other words, a big crop is worth less than a small one, and this increases the pressure on farmers to save seed.  Two, most other countries around the world do not recognize seed saving prohibitions. The farmers in those countries, our competitors in the world export markets, can freely save seed.  This puts the American farmer at an extreme disadvantage. And, it really hurts to see American farmers get prosecuted for something our competitors are free to do.

The seed companies say they cannot prevent this. But why are they so eager, then, to commercialize their patented seeds in countries where they know fully well beforehand that they cannot enforce their seed saving prohibitions?  For example, Monsanto is very anxious for the Brazilian government to approve its patented GMO soybean seed. However, the fact that farmers there are already growing some bootleg Monsanto soybeans proves that Monsanto will never be able to enforce a seed saving prohibition.

Finally, nearly every single farmer and consumer I speak with opposes taking away a farmer's right to save seed, as do major farm groups such as the American Corn Growers Association, the National Farmers Union, the National Family Farm Coalition, and others. Even the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization opposes it, as it is a violation of the internationally
accepted principle of Farmers' Rights.


David Dechant

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Letters to the editor
The Fargo Forum

Buyers of North Dakota wheat don't want GMOs I have been reading with interest articles about biotech wheat and the tug-of-war between certain legislators in North Dakota who want a ban on its seeding, while the large, deep-pocketed, multi-national seed company seems to want to force it down the throats of producers.

There is very strong opposition to genetically modified wheat both in Europe and Japan. It's not a question about the science or safety, for those answers are not yet known. It is the perception by the consumer of cookies, cakes, donuts, pizza and home baking flour that matters. If they don't want it, manufacturers of products with flour in them will not want flour made from GMO wheat, and if these manufacturers won't use it, then the flour miller will not buy it. Despite promises from the seed company that provides it, a basic rule of grain trading is when you produce a grain of limited economic value, it will have a limited economic value.

I am a buyer of soft red wheat, hard red winter wheat and northern spring wheat for a flour mill in North Carolina. Our spring wheat naturally comes from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Our customers don't want biotech wheat. We won't purchase biotech wheat. To those who think it can be kept segregated, think StarLink.

Don Baldwin
Newton, N.C.

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