WASHINGTON » The Supreme Court agreed today to hear a dispute between a soybean farmer and Monsanto Co. over the company’s efforts to limit farmers’ use of its patented, genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds.
The justices said they will hear an appeal from Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who is trying to fend off Monsanto’s lawsuit claiming Bowman made unauthorized use of the seeds.
Monsanto’s patented soybean seeds have been genetically engineered to resist its Roundup brand herbicide. When Roundup is sprayed on a field, the product will kill the weeds without harming the crop.
The Obama administration urged the court not to take the case and warned that the outcome could affect patents involving DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies.
Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown, ensuring that farmers have to buy new seeds every year.
Bowman used the patented seeds, but also bought cheaper soybeans from a grain elevator and used those to plant a second crop. Most of the new soybeans also were resistant to weed killers, as they initially came from herbicide-resistant seeds, too. Bowman repeated the practice over eight years. Monsanto sued when it learned what he was doing.
The company has filed lawsuits around the country to enforce its policy against saving the seeds for the future.
Bowman’s appeal was among seven new cases the court added today to its calendar for argument during the winter.
The justices also will consider whether a government’s refusal to issue a development permit can amount to “taking” private property for which the owner must be paid.
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.
At the supermarket, most shoppers are oblivious to a battle raging within U.S. agriculture and the Obama administration’s role in it. Two thriving but opposing sectors — organics and genetically engineered crops — have been warring on the farm, in the courts and in Washington.
Organic growers say that, without safeguards, their foods will be contaminated by genetically modified crops growing nearby. The genetic engineering industry argues that its way of farming is safe and should not be restricted in order to protect organic competitors.
Into that conflict comes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who for two years has been promising something revolutionary: finding a way for organic farms to coexist alongside the modified plants.
But in recent weeks, the administration has announced a trio of decisions that have clouded the future of organics and boosted the position of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Vilsack approved genetically modified alfalfa and a modified corn to be made into ethanol, and he gave limited approval to GE sugar beets.
The announcements were applauded by GE industry executives, who describe their crops as the farming of the future. But organics supporters were furious, saying their hopes that the Obama administration would protect their interests were dashed.
“It was boom, boom boom,” said Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Markets, a major player in organics. “These were deeply disappointing. They were such one-sided decisions.”
A nonprofit established three years ago to support farming in Hawaii plans to set up an agricultural park for small farmers in Kunia on land owned by the Army and a private development partner.
The Hawaii Agricultural Foundation hopes to interest 10 or more local farmers in leasing the roughly 200-acre property formerly planted in pineapple and sugar cane.
Lease terms — including rents and the length of leases — have yet to be set, though the foundation aims to have initial tenants on the land by the end of the year, according to Dean Okimoto, a Waimanalo farmer serving as the foundation’s president.
A groundbreaking ceremony at the site is scheduled for today.
The land is part of 2,400 acres the Army and development partner Lend Lease bought in 2008 from Campbell Estate for $32 million, according to property records.
Ann M. Choo Wharton, a spokeswoman for the Army-Lend Lease venture known as Island Palm Communities, said the Army initially planned to expand housing for nearby Schofield Barracks on a small piece of the property. But the Army’s housing needs changed, which prompted the landowners to seek tenants for the whole property.
Monsanto in 2009 leased 1,675 acres for 40 years to grow seed corn. The Army and Lend Lease have 680 acres available for lease and are considering possible renewable-energy uses on another piece of the land, Wharton said.
The roughly 200 acres for the ag park is part of what Monsanto leases. As part of the Monsanto lease, the Army and Lend Lease required that 10 percent of the land be made available to local farmers.
Last year marked a sixth consecutive year of dramatic growth for Hawaii seed crop producers, according to a recent government estimate, though the industry dominated by seed corn may be nearing maturity.
The Hawaii office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported the value of the local seed crop industry rose 26 percent to $223 million in 2009 from $177 million the year before.
The gain further ingrains seeds as Hawaii’s largest crop by value, a spot seeds have held since pineapple was dethroned in 2006, though other crops contribute more to the local food supply and commercial sales.
Industry observers expect the strong pace of expansion, which began five years ago after hovering around $50 million for several years before that, will begin to cool as the industry matures.
Last season’s big jump reflected expansion of operations by some producers after large land acquisitions in recent years that allowed the companies to build up research and farming, according to Fred Perlak, president of the industry’s trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.
“I think what you’re seeing here is the maturing of the acquisitions in the last two or three years,” said Perlak, who is also vice president of research and business operations for Monsanto in Hawaii.
The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii-Manoa has received $20,000 from the Monsanto Fund.
The college says the money will support salaries and materials for “Gene-ius Day.” It’s a special program that introduces students in grades 4 through 12 to basic genetics and the function of DNA.
The founder and director of Gene-ius Day, Ania Wieczorek, is an associate specialist in the college’s Biotechnology, Biotechnology Outreach Program.
She says a primary goal of the program is to build a strong understanding of basic genetics at the elementary school level.
That way, teachers are able to present increasingly complex biotechnology topics in the upper grades.
Executives of Monsanto told skittish investors on Wednesday that earnings per share would grow 13 to 17 percent in the next fiscal year and that the company was on its way to fixing problems in its seed business that have undermined the confidence of Wall Street.
The remarks, in line with some previous assurances by company executives, were made as Monsanto reported that net income for the year that ended Aug. 31 had dropped by nearly half from a year earlier.
“I believe we’ve taken steps to allow our company to return to growth,” Hugh Grant, the chief executive, told analysts and investors Wednesday on a conference call.
He said the seed business was going to offer “more products at more price points” to help regain the trust of farmers who have been put off by high seed prices and lower-than-expected yields for some products, particularly Monsanto’s new SmartStax corn.
VIVARO, Italy — Giorgio Fidenato declared war on the Italian government and environmental groups in April with a news conference and a YouTube video, which showed him poking six genetically modified corn seeds into Italian soil.
In fact, said Mr. Fidenato, 49, an agronomist, he planted two fields of genetically modified corn. But since “corn looks like corn,” as he put it, it took his opponents weeks to find his crop.
The seeds, known as MON810, are modified so that the corn produces a chemical that kills the larvae of the corn borer, a devastating pest. Yet while European Union rules allow this particular seed to be planted, Italy requires farmers to get special permission for any genetically modified, or G.M., crop — and the Agriculture Ministry never said yes.
“We had no choice but to engage in civil disobedience — these seeds are legal in Europe,” said Mr. Fidenato, who has repeatedly applied for permission, adding that he drew more inspiration from Ron Paul than Gandhi.
The World Trade Organization says that general bans on genetically modified crops constitute an unfair trade barrier, because there is no scientific basis for exclusion. But four years after a W.T.O. panel ruled that European Union policies constituted an illegal “de facto moratorium” on the planting of genetically modified seeds, some farmers, like Mr. Fidenato, and seed producers like Monsanto complain that Europe still has not really opened its doors.
To: Golf Course & Landscape Industries
From: Norman M. Nagata, Extension Agent
An herbicide test using low rates of Roundup Promax was conducted on goosegrass that exhibited resistance to Revolver, MSMS, and Sencor at Waiehu Municipal Golf Course. You are invited to a field day to see these results at 13 weeks after treatment.
Date: July 30, 2010 (Friday)
Time: 10:45 am to 12:00 pm
Place: Meet at Waiehu Golf Course “Service Entrance” (6th tee) next to Waiehu Beach Park & Baseball Field located at the end of “Lower Waiehu Beach Road” at 10:45 am. We will then car-pool to the test site at the 17th tee.
- 11:00 – 11:15 am Overview of goosegrass control
- 11:15 – 11:35 Roundup Promax & experimental protocol
- 11:35 – 12:00 pm Observe & discuss Roundup results on goosegrass & common bermudagrass
Recertification credits will be offered for:
- Hawaii Dept. of Agriculture Pesticide categories 1a, 3, 6 & 10
- Golf Course Superintendents Assoc. of America
Deadline to register (and to apply for recertification credits) is July 29 (Thursday).
You can register by contacting email@example.com or by calling the Cooperative Extension Service at 244-3242 x230. Please provide your name, company & telephone number should there be any changes on this field day.
This project was partially supported by Monsanto Company and the County of Maui.
Mahalo to Ron Kubo, Superintendent at Waiehu Golf Course for making this test possible.