Farmer’s use of genetically modified soybeans grows into Supreme Court case
By Robert Barnes, Saturday, February 9, 3:12 PM
In SANDBORN, Ind. — Farmer Hugh Bowman hardly looks the part of a revolutionary who stands in the way of promising new biotech discoveries and threatens Monsanto’s pursuit of new products it says will “feed the world.”
“Hell’s fire,” said the 75-year-old self-described “eccentric old bachelor,” who farms 300 acres of land passed down from his father. Bowman rested in a recliner, boots off, the tag that once held his Foster Grant reading glasses to a drugstore rack still attached, a Monsanto gimme cap perched ironically on his balding head.
“I am less than a drop in the bucket.”
Yet Bowman’s unorthodox soybean farming techniques have landed him at the center of a national battle over genetically modified crops. His legal battle, now at the Supreme Court, raises questions about whether the right to patent living things extends to their progeny, and how companies that engage in cutting-edge research can recoup their investments.
What Bowman did was to take commodity grain from the local elevator, which is usually used for feed, and plant it. But that grain was mostly progeny of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beans because that’s what most Indiana soybean farmers grow. Those soybeans are genetically modified to survive the weedkiller Roundup, and Monsanto claims that Bowman’s planting violated the company’s restrictions.
Those supporting Bowman hope the court uses the case, which is scheduled for oral arguments later this month, to hit the reset button on corporate domination of agribusiness and what they call Monsanto’s “legal assault” on farmers who don’t toe the line. Monsanto’s supporters say advances in health and environmental research are endangered.
And the case raises questions about the traditional role of farmers.
For instance: When a farmer grows Monsanto’s genetically modified soybean seeds, has he simply “used” the seed to create a crop to sell, or has he “made” untold replicas of Monsanto’s invention that remain subject to the company’s restrictions?
An adverse ruling, Monsanto warned the court in its brief, “would devastate innovation in biotechnology,” which involves “notoriously high research and development costs.”
“Inventors are unlikely to make such investments if they cannot prevent purchasers of living organisms containing their invention from using them to produce unlimited copies,” Monsanto states.
Bowman said Monsanto’s claim that its patent protection would be eviscerated should he win is “ridiculous.”
“Monsanto should not be able, just because they’ve got millions and millions of dollars to spend on legal fees, to try to terrify farmers into making them obey their agreements by massive force and threats,” Bowman said.
Lend me your ears: There’s a corny new attraction opening this fall at the Kohala Mountain Farm.
With flags, paint and grass killer in hand, Braden Bair began mapping out and creating passageways for a giant labyrinth Thursday in a roughly 3-acre cornfield at the picturesque farm, located makai of Kahua Ranch on Kohala Mountain Road between Hawi and Waimea.
The 25-year-old Brigham Young University student works as a consultant for The MAiZE, a cornfield maze consulting and design company based in Spanish Fork, Utah. Since the company was founded in 1996, it has created more than 2,000 corn mazes worldwide.
Bair has created more than 200 mazes — including at least 75 mazes this summer — since getting into the business in high school. The Kohala Mountain Farm’s maze was expected to take about three hours to complete, but the grass killer takes about a week to work, he said.
This is the first corn maze on the Big Island, and Kohala High School junior Daylan Higa designed it, said Stacy Hasegawa, Kohala Mountain Farm project coordinator.
Higa won a maze design contest, which had 23 entries from local high school students in the Hawaii School Garden Network Program. His winning design features the Hawaiian Islands, taro leaves, a poi pounder, the star Hokulea and the word “Kohala.”
As the first place winner, Higa will receive $1,000 for Kohala High’s garden from MacArthur & Co. Sotheby’s International Realty and a helicopter tour of his creation, compliments of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The runner-up, Makalii Bertelmann of Kanu o ka Aina Public Charter School, will get a zip-line trip, compliments of Hawaii Forest & Trail.
Biofuels have become a victim of own success, it appears: for the first time in a decade global production has dropped. Production in 2011 dropped a touch from 1.822m barrels a day in 2010 to 1.819m in 2011, according to IEA statistics (p30) highlighted by the Financial Times.
The key reason has been the rising cost of the feedstock for most biofuels, corn, sugar and vegetable oil. And the main reason for the rising food prices is, many argue, the huge quantity consumed by biofuels. It’s a big business. The global biofuels business would, if a nation, rank 16th in the world for oil production, just above the UK and Libya and a bit below Norway and Nigeria, all major oil producers. In the US, 40% of the corn crop now gets diverted into fuel tanks, giving the US 50% of global biofuel production.
On top of the peaking of production, the US has just phased out some fat subsidies and tariffs protecting the domestic biofuel industry from international competition. So is the biofuels boom over?
In a word, no. The key driving factor is the price of ordinary oil. In the medium and long term, crude prices seem very likely to remain high and vulnerable to shocks, such as the current Iranian situation. “Once oil is over $70 a barrel, conventional and new generation biofuels become cost competitive, certainly with tar sands and shale, and with oil from much of the Middle East and Brazil’s new offshore fields,” said Jeremy Woods, at Imperial College, when I spoke to him in March. Today, Brent crude is at $113. The IEA predicts a 20% rise in biofuel production to 2.2m b/d by 2015, although that is a slower rise than in the past.
This brings us to the environmental crux. “The less biofuel you have the more gasoline you need,” Amrita Sen, oil analyst at Barclays Capital in London, told the FT.
AUSTRALIAN cattle farmers fear a plan by Indonesia to drastically cut the amount of beef it imports next year will be a massive blow to the domestic industry.
Indonesia will only allow for 280,000 cows to be imported, down from 520,000 permits this year. Live exports to Indonesia are believed to be worth $300 million to Australian farmers.
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Indonesia will also limit the boxed beef it buys from overseas to 34,000 tonnes. Last year, Australia exported 48,500 tonnes of boxed beef to Indonesia.
Indonesia has indicated it wants to be self-sufficient in beef by 2014.
The Cattle Council of Australia president, Andrew Ogilvie, said Indonesia’s decision had dealt the industry a huge blow.
”Industry is pretty disappointed that there has been a reduction but we recognise Indonesia’s determination for self-sufficiency,” he said.
Mr Ogilvie said he did not believe the decision was in retaliation to Australia’s suspension of trade in June.
The live cattle trade was suspended by the Australian government for a month this year after the ABC’s Four Corners program sparked animal welfare concerns. The trade was later reinstated.
The Australian Live Exporters Council chief executive, Lach McKinnon, told the ABC any drop in exports would be massive blow to the cattle industry in the northern states.
”It’ll put us under a lot of pressure and we’ll have to work very hard to get through this,” he said.
”It’s like any of these particular trade issues – it’s about government to government and working through what it is both parties want to get.”
This month the Labor Party’s national conference rejected a push to phase out live cattle exports altogether.
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of “superweeds”, according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about 20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
The report claims that hunger has reached “epic proportions” since the technology was developed. Besides this, only two GM “traits” have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance and salt tolerance have yet to materialise on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies’ justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops, and a survey by Navdanya International, in India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced.
Add weed control to the list of elements of growing your 2011 crop that is being complicated as cool, wet weather continues to delay planting in the bulk of the Corn Belt.
If you’re too far delayed in your planting and were originally planning on using a quick tillage trip to knock down early-emerging weeds, you may not be able to pull that off this spring. “Preplant tillage operations can effectively control existing vegetation while preparing a seedbed,” says University of Illinois Extension weed specialist Aaron Hager. “However, as weeds become larger, the effectiveness of tillage to control weeds before planting can be reduced.”
Even if you are able to squeeze in a round of tillage as things start to dry out, it may lose some efficacy, Hager says. “Reduced weed control may also occur when fields are slightly wet during the preplant tillage operation,” he says. “Soil disturbance may not be as extensive when soils are retaining moisture, and clods are more likely to be formed. Weeds sometimes take root again after tillage when soil disturbance is inadequate and soil moisture is abundant.”
So, what’s the answer? If tillage is already done, you don’t have enough time before you plant, or you were already thinking of a burndown application anyway, Hager says you can control winter annual weeds with a little stronger rate of burndown herbicide to “account for the large and dense vegetation.”
CHICAGO, Illinois (Agriculture.com)–The CME Group corn market closed limit down on improved planting weather outlooks Thursday.
The July corn futures settled down the 30 cent ‘limit’ at $7.29 1/4. The contract traded around $7.24, synthetically. The July soybean contract closed 31 cents lower at $13.53 1/2. The July wheat futures closed 34 1/2 cents lower at $7.76. The July soybean meal futures settled $7.60 per short ton lower at $354.20. The July soyoil futures closed $1.48 lower at $56.93.
In the outside markets, the NYMEX crude oil is $0.10 per barrel higher, the dollar is lower and the Dow Jones Industrials are up 36 points. Since 1980, silver hit a new record price of $50.
“As I said yesterday, with exact scenario today, we left technical gap areas below and the first one was $7.49,” one CME Group corn pit trader says. But, I believe it’s merely about healthy corrections. Otherwise, the market is still bullish long term.”
Tim Hannagan, PFGBest.com senior grain analyst, says corn, wheat and beans continue to remove the recent weather premium, as this last system is now over and there’s not another appreciable rain until next Thursday now. “This has the trade thinking some spring wheat and corn could be planted early next week in the upper Plains. But, even if planting occurs, heavy rains enter on May 6 & 7 and then again May 11 & 12, leaving us generally well behind on planting,” Hannagan says.
Rich Feltes, RJ O’Brien market analyst, says, weather concerns don’t stop after planting. “The market is still going to be hanging on the edge needing to know the crops will be getting timely precipitation in the absence of summer heat. For that matter, for the late planted areas, we will need later than normal frostings. And we won’t know that for months,” Feltes says.
On May 26, 2009, Robert Lustig gave a lecture called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” which was posted on YouTube the following July. Since then, it has been viewed well over 800,000 times, gaining new viewers at a rate of about 50,000 per month, fairly remarkable numbers for a 90-minute discussion of the nuances of fructose biochemistry and human physiology.
Lustig is a specialist on pediatric hormone disorders and the leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, which is one of the best medical schools in the country. He published his first paper on childhood obesity a dozen years ago, and he has been treating patients and doing research on the disorder ever since.
The viral success of his lecture, though, has little to do with Lustig’s impressive credentials and far more with the persuasive case he makes that sugar is a “toxin” or a “poison,” terms he uses together 13 times through the course of the lecture, in addition to the five references to sugar as merely “evil.” And by “sugar,” Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal — technically known as sucrose — but also high-fructose corn syrup, which has already become without Lustig’s help what he calls “the most demonized additive known to man.”
It doesn’t hurt Lustig’s cause that he is a compelling public speaker.
The founder, who began by slaughtering one or two head a day in 1953, raises calves far in the countryside. Six of his children are in JBS’s management. And ranchers such as Edson Crochiquia, who is 69 but rounds up cattle on horseback near here, spare no detail to provide the company with healthy, 1,000-pound animals.
Even a decade ago, JBS was still mainly focused on selling in Brazil. But by acquiring American giants such as Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride, JBS grew from a $1 billion private company into a $40 billion behemoth that slaughters 90,000 head of cattle a day, employs 125,000 workers and exports to 150 countries.
JBS is now the world’s biggest provider of meat, its footprint felt by feedlots, packing plants and chicken processors from Argentina to Italy to the American Midwest.
In Brazil, it is not uncommon to find banks, steel mills and other companies that evolved from family businesses into global giants. But JBS stands out, using an alliance with Brazil’s development bank and an aggressive acquisition strategy to become a vital pillar of the country’s efforts to project its economic power abroad.
To Wesley Batista, JBS’s 40-year-old chief executive and the founder’s fourth child, the company is still run “a simple way,” using a management model without “a lot of layers, not a lot of fancy things, not a lot of time spent on PowerPoint presentations.”