Roger Johnson Professor E. Ann
Clark David Dechant
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.
Rights Must Be Protected
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
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
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
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
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.
Johnson is North Dakota's agriculture commissioner.
Professor Speaks Out On Percy Schmeiser Decision
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.
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
b. he was
found guilty of having Monsanto genetics on his land,
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
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.
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
Wake up folks,
and see the writing on the wall, as revealed by this remarkably
E. Ann Clark
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ont. Canada
March 29, 2001
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
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
accepted principle of Farmers' Rights.
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.