Information NELSON vs. MONSANTO

"Farmer Gets Ready to Plant, and Battle in Court Over Seed"

Associated Press
May 7, 2001

Amenia, ND

Roger Nelson is preparing the seed bed for his wheat as his lawyer prepares to fight a seed battle in court.

Nelson, 61, and sons Greg and Rodney have been sued by Monsanto, which accused them of saving seed from genetically-engineered soybeans to use the following year. The company alleges the Nelsons used its technology without paying for it. They deny Monsanto's claim.

The case is in federal court in St. Louis, but the Nelson's lawyer, Mark Fraase, has filed a motion to move it to Fargo. Fraase said the trial might not start for at least 10 months.

Both sides have waived a jury in the case, so it will be heard by a judge.

Although the Nelsons' 2000 crop wasn't part of the lawsuit, it, too, is in question. Monsanto claims the Nelsons infringed on its patent "and continue to do so," Fraase said.

Monsanto filed the lawsuit in October over the 1999 crop. The company came in November to sample the 2000 crop, but the fields were so wet that the investigators went home empty-handed.

"They haven't been here yet, that we know of," Nelson said, while riding in his tractor last week.

Lori Fisher, a spokeswoman for Monsanto, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Monday.

The correspondence from Monsanto included questionnaires with "a lot of questions about our cotton crop up here," showing a lack of knowledge about North Dakota farms, he said.

After this year's spring flooding, the Nelsons said, fields could be contaminated with soybean debris from other neighboring fields. Some township roads in their neighborhood were washed out and some fields were totally under water.

The Nelsons and Fraase took their case to the North Dakota Sate Seed Arbitration Board in March. The board said last month that it could find no evidence violated Monsanto's patent rights.

Monsanto refused to show up at the hearing, but later requested tapes and evidence from the arbitration case, in preparation for its case in federal court.

The case prompted the Legislature to pass what was known as the "Nelson bill," which requires companies such as Monsanto to notify farmers when they suspect them of patent infringements.

For their 2001 crop, the Nelsons said they will plant all "conventional" seed, though they said it is easy to have contamination.

Personal issues aside, Nelson said he wonders about the future of biotech crops, in a world in which two companies may control 80 percent of the seed stock and consumer acceptance is questionable.

"A farmer can go out and buy brand new, conventional seed and you can't get any written guarantees that they're GMO-free," Nelson said. "If we liked the conventional variety we're using, we might save some of it for seed in 2002. Under a current ruling out of Canada, if that seed contained some Roundup Ready genes, we'd be infringing on Monsanto patent. It's insanity."

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