GMOs and Patents: Part 3 – Lawsuits for inadvertent contamination

This is the third and final post in a series examining the topic of GMOs and patents. The first post provided an overview on the topic of patents and described the concept of “terminator genes”. The second post examined lawsuits against farmers for using genetically modified seeds, focusing on two high profile cases (Schmeider v Monsanto, and Bowman v Monsanto). This final post will examine whether there have been cases of lawsuits brought against farmers for unknowingly using GE seeds or inadvertent contamination

This paragraph from the previous post in the series must be repeated here: “Most of this article will focus on Monsanto, primarily because it has been the target of many activist efforts (I have yet to see a March Against Syngenta). As you may know, the commonly repeated myth is that Monsanto has taken hundreds of farmers to court for inadvertent contamination or for replanting GE seeds. According to the company’s website, there have been ‘147 lawsuits filed since 1997 in the United States. This averages about 8 per year for the past 18 years. To date, only 9 cases have gone through full trial. In every one of these instances, the jury or court decided in our favor.'” To determine if any of these cases was unfairly brought against a farmer (inadvertent contamination or unknowingly using GE seeds), I would have had to review each of these cases. However, I came across a story that had done all the work for me: a 2013 court case, known as OSGATA vs Monsanto.

Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto Company

Most of the information from this section is from the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit court documents.

In 2013, a coalition of organic farmers, seed distributors and anti-GMO organizations, including names such as the Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now!, and the Cornucopia Institute, joined forces and took Monsanto to court to invalidate 23 of the company’s patents, particularly surrounding Round-Up Ready seeds. The case is known as OSGATA v Monsanto. The case’s background states that these groups do not want to use/sell transgenic seeds or glyphosate. However, their concern is that if they do become contaminated they could “be accused of patent infringement by the company responsible for the transgenic seed that contaminates them”.

The intro to the court document explains that in 2011, Organic seed growers went before a judge in the Southern District of New York asking that the patents be judged “invalid, unenforceable, and not infringed”. They claimed that they had started growing conventional produce since the threat of contamination from GMO was so high. They had to take expensive precautions such as creating a buffer zone, so that they wouldn’t be sued by Monsanto. One grower testified to the fact that the only reason why he grows conventional seeds is the threat of a lawsuit from Monsanto, and if this threat didn’t exist then he would go back to growing organic seeds. So, in April 2011, these growers requested Monsanto to “expressly waive any claim for patent infringement [Monsanto] may ever have against [appellants] and memorialize that waiver by providing a written covenant not to sue.” OSGATA, et al claimed that they felt at risk of being sued by Monsanto if their fields were ever found to be contaminated with Monsanto’s patented GMOs.

At the heart of the issue was the fact that Monsanto’s promise to never sue a farmer whose fields have been (unknowingly) contaminated by their seeds was a statement on the company website. It wasn’t a law. It wasn’t something that they had sworn to under oath. It was just something on their webpage which, at the end of the day, could be false advertising or a PR gimmick. In back-and-forths between lawyers, Monsanto wrote that they have no reason to go after farmers for low level contamination because there’s no financial incentive, and that if the motives of the growers/farmers is true (i.e. that they don’t intend to use/sell transgenic seeds), then their fear of a lawsuit is unreasonable. The judge in the district court threw out the case in 2011 based on the fact that “these circumstances do not amount to a substantial controversy and . . . there has been no injury traceable to defendants”.

The case then went to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, whose court documents are the ones I’m summarizing. The discussion states that it isn’t sufficient to demonstrate that a patent is owned by someone and that there’s a risk of infringement: you have to actually demonstrate that there’s a substantial risk that harm may occur or that they have to go through expenses/costs to mitigate those risks. In other words, the judge asked the organic growers/seed distributors to demonstrate that there was the possibility that they might get sued for inadvertent contamination.

The 2 pages of appellants in the lawsuit in the OSGATA case
The 2 pages of appellants in the lawsuit in the OSGATA case

The Organic growers/seed distributors (OSGATA) conceded that Monsanto had never threatened to sue them. OSGATA stated that their fear is based on the fact that Monsanto has taken 144 growers/sellers to court and settled 700 additional cases out of court. Monsanto argued that none of these cases have been due to inadvertent contamination, and consequently, it was not equivalent to suing for inadvertent contamination.

However, the court conceded that given the way patent laws are written, even using a small amount of a patented material without authorization could constitute patent infringement. For the purposes of the appeal, the judge proceeded with the ruling based on the assumption that inadvertent contamination, including cross-pollination, was inevitable (the court document clarified that this was an assumption, not a ruling).

The documents state that the whole argument was moot if Monsanto really didn’t intend to sue: the Supreme Court has recognized that a covenant not to sue nullifies a controversy between parties. Since Monsanto had a written policy on their website against inadvertent contamination, the court documents recorded Monsanto’s position on this whole argument. Monsanto and the organic growers agreed that “trace amounts” meant approximately 1% contamination. The ruling states that although this was not a covenant not to sue, it had a similar effect and constituted a judicial estoppel, which means that Monsanto could no longer contradict something that’s been established as truth by itself and by the court.

OSGATA stated that Monsanto’s refusal to provide a covenant had a “chilling effect” and that farmers/growers would have to forgo the activities that they would have otherwise liked to pursue. The judge stated that a “chilling effect” wasn’t something tangible, that the appellants needed to have something more specific than that, and that the future harm described was speculative and hypothetical.

The court ruling ends with this statement in the concluding paragraph: “the appellants have alleged no concrete plans or activities to use or sell greater than trace amounts of modified seed, and accordingly fail to show any risk of suit on that basis. The appellants therefore lack an essential element of standing.”

Conclusion

The organic movement considered this case to be a partial victory because they now had in writing that Monsanto would never sue them for inadvertent contamination. But I’m not sure I understand this… I think you’d have to be so paranoid about what Monsanto might do that you’d be willing to incur massive legal fees to make sure that a hypothetical never happens, even when you can’t produce proof that it might.

So how is it that this myth about Monsanto suing farmers still circulates? Based on the movie “David vs Monsanto” described in part two of the series, you could believe that Monsanto plants evidence and works with testing companies to ensure that you your testing is >1%. You could believe that the 700 court cases that were settled out of court were against farmers who were inadvertently contaminated, but just didn’t have the money to fight Monsanto in court. You could also believe that all the court cases had judges and witnesses who were paid off by Monsanto.

My perspective on this is that Monsanto is a huge company that has better things to do than to sue the small farmer who inadvertently uses their seeds. From a practical perspective, it would probably represent a greater expense to them in legal fees than what they would recoup through the settlement or a court case. As I described in the last post, even in cases where Monsanto has taken farmers to court for knowingly using Monsanto seeds without an agreement, there have been massive amounts of negative publicity for the company. Imagine the uproar if they took a farmer to court who genuinely had no idea that his/her field was contaminated.

To conclude this series, I have found no evidence that farmers are sued by Monsanto for inadvertent contamination. The lawsuits that I examined were for cases where farmers knowingly and admittedly used Monsanto seeds without licensing contracts. The fact that seeds are patented is not exclusive to GMOs: as outlined in the first post, many other traditionally bred seeds are patented. For some seeds, both genetically engineered and traditionally bred, farmers sign annual contracts with seed developers. However, farmers have many choices and in no way are forced to plant these seeds or sign these contracts.

Follow Layla Katiraee:

Layla Parker-Katiraee holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto and a Bachelors degree in biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario. She is currently a Staff Scientist in DNA Sequencing Product Development. All views and opinions expressed are her own.

  • mem_somerville

    I was just having this argument (again) in a forum the other day. I wanted to remember how many people OSGATA claimed to represent. They said it was 300,000 people. And the judge found that not one of them–not a single one–had been able to demonstrate that they had been threatened. http://ctnofa1982.blogspot.com/2012_01_01_archive.html

    The lawsuit OSGATA (Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association) et al vs. Monsanto was filed on behalf of 300,000 organic and non-GMO farmers and citizens to seek judicial relief in “protect[ing] themselves from ever being accused of infringing patents on transgenic (GMO) seed”.

    The judge: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/02/27/147506542/judge-dismisses-organic-farmers-case-against-monsanto

    Instead, the judge found that plaintiffs’ allegations were “unsubstantiated … given that not one single plaintiff claims to have been so threatened.

    I wish that people who give money to these rent-seeking lawsuit mills would realize that they are getting terrible legal advice, and they are being used for stunts. Their money would be better spent funding other things they claim to care about that have a real chance of making a difference.

    • I find it interesting that 14 days have passed and there have been no comments on this. I would like to hear what people with diverse viewpoints think about this.

      • JoeFarmer

        From my perspective as a producer that buys a lot of biotech-traited seed each year, one thing that never seems to come up in these, “Monsanto is evil” discussions are:

        1. Syngenta and Bayer Cropscience GM traits are popular, too in my area. Why the activist world never mentions brand S and brand B is curious.

        2. Activists either don’t know or gloss over the fact that ag biotech companies license their traits to other companies. They go straight for the, “Evil Monsanto is trying to take over the food supply” meme. I do buy quite a bit of seed with Monsanto-patented traits, but I haven’t bought seed from a Monsanto-owned seed company for 5 years. I don’t have a problem with the Monsanto-owned companies like Dekalb, Asgrow or Channel , but I like to buy from independent companies when I can. And I buy from companies that you’ve probably never heard of unless you live in Iowa, like Latham Hi-Tech, Champion Seed, Stine, Wyffels, etc. And those companies also license traits from Syngenta and Bayer. I also buy seed from DuPont/Pioneer and guess what, Pioneer licenses traits from Monsanto and Syngenta. It’s a total non-issue that one company has a patent on a trait.

        3. Activist groups also totally ignore the fact and long history of legal precedent that a farmer wanting to grow an identity-preserved crop, like say, non-GMO corn is the burden of identity preservation rests upon that farmer, since he/she is the one that stands to benefit financially. I grow seed for one of the previously mentioned companies. What would happen to me if some organic grower leases ground right next and contaminates what I’m growing? The answer is, “too bad for me” because I’m getting a stewardship premium in exchange for growing seed.

        I really think part of the reason that the anti-biotech, anti-modern ag, agricultural creationists, etc. have gotten such a lead in the discussion (in spite of their incredibly inaccurate statements) is because the average American today has basically no idea what farming is any more. A few generations ago, many people had an uncle or a grandpa that was a farmer. With less than 2% of the population involved in farming today, people don’t know.

        • kfunk937

          Awesome comment. Thanks!

          I will probably quote you.

          • JoeFarmer

            Thanks. One of my semi-frustrations is that maybe only 3 out of 100 disqus commenters are actually willing to engage in a discussion about farming.

            The rest just parrot what they saw on some activist facebook infographic or blog…

        • hyperzombie

          Excellent comment. Well for a fake farmer, GMO troll, Monsatan insider, Pro- GMO disinformation Goon, plus the hundreds of other names you have been called..

          • JoeFarmer

            Yep, I’m the evil guy that gets about 4.7 cents from every box of Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal or Corn Chex at the grocery store.

            Seems like my plan for world domination needs to be revised…Time to revisit those old James Bond films, maybe I can up my game. Goldfinger had the Rolls Royce made out of gold in disguise, maybe I can make one out of corn?

        • hyperzombie

          ” have gotten such a lead in the discussion (in spite of their incredibly inaccurate statements) is because the average American today has basically no idea what farming is any more. “

          I think it is more than that. People have no idea how good they have it today. There is no struggles anymore, no starvation, No wars were half the population of some small towns is wiped out, No serious pollution problems, No real threat of nuke wars, no massive insect outbreaks, No starving African countries, No massive unemployment, people need something to Freak Out about, so now it is Chemtrails, Vaxes and GMOs. If SHTF, the last think these folks will be worried about is GMOs.

          • JoeFarmer

            You are exactly correct.

            My parents were children of the Great Depression and lived through WWII as grade-schoolers. My mom still saves bread bags, because they are useful and can be reused. What people don’t realize is that our ancestors were “repurposing” and “upcycling” things 75+ years ago without bragging about it on facebook. Because there was no facebook, and if you were lucky enough to actually have a telephone in your house you probably had a party line.

            Now we get 24-7 news showing how bad it was for people suffering through “Superstorm Sandy” because they can’t recharge their iPhones . Ugh.

            • hyperzombie

              Yep so true, My gramps always tell me about his uncle’s and friends that went to WW11, 87 men 18-30 went to the war from his little town only 39 lived to return, now people freak out if the internet is down for an hour. Even when I was a kid, about 30 years ago the power went out all the time, you dealt with it. Today it is a major catastrophe.

              • JoeFarmer

                Exactly.

                People have this idea in their mind that farming is some kind of happy-happy bucolic thing where the ducks and bunnies dance around all happy-like. But my grandpa on my mom’s side of the family hated farming enough back in early 1917 that he volunteered to fight in WWI.

                I think that says a lot, being willing to go to another continent to fight a war that the U.S. wasn’t even in yet.

        • Ewan R

          They are probably licensing Monsanto genetics anyway… (traits aren’t the only things that get out licensed)

    • JoeFarmer

      “I wish that people who give money to these rent-seeking lawsuit mills
      would realize that they are getting terrible legal advice, and they are
      being used for stunts.”

      You nailed it.

  • Charles Rader

    One very interesting aspect of OSGATA vs Monsanto is that although the lawsuit was dismissed, the judge’s dismissal included a legal guarantee that Monsanto would not sue the plaintiffs for inadvertent contamination. In effect this was exactly what the plaintiffs said that they wanted. Yet they choose to appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court (which, however, declined to accept the case.)

    In my opinion (and I admit that it is only an opinion) the real purpose of the OSGATA vs Monsanto lawsuit was to generate newspaper headlines about inadvertent contamination and about Monsanto lawsuits.

  • flypimp

    there is some awesome truth telling in the decision: “Plaintiffs’ letter to defendants seems to have been nothing
    more than an attempt to create a controversy where none exists. … plaintiffs’ argument is baseless and their
    tactics not to be tolerated… lame…”

  • Chris Preston

    The organic movement considered this case to be a partial victory because they now had in writing that Monsanto would never sue them for inadvertent contamination. But I’m not sure I understand this… I think you’d have to be so paranoid about what Monsanto might do that you’d be willing to incur massive legal fees to make sure that a hypothetical never happens, even when you can’t produce proof that it might.

    The reason that you don’t understand this is because it makes little sense, except as a public relations exercise. This has all the hallmarks of declaring victory despite a stunning and overwhelming defeat in the court case, because you need to give the punters something to believe.

  • Ray Kinney

    Depending on an evolving definition of “GMO” and ‘organic’ the two may be considered mutually exclusive, no? If my chestnut (organic) orchard were to become encroached upon by ‘GMO’ pollen, with the results that I could not sell my crop as organic, why should I not worry about my lost income potential?

    • mem_somerville

      There are no organic chestnut orchards, they all died in the blight.

      • Ray Kinney

        Not true, perhaps in your area that is the case… but not true in many other areas.

        • mem_somerville

          That’s absurd. The appearance of a single chestnut tree anywhere (and they are all recorded, but locations are secret) makes the news.

          Please, governor, point to an organic chestnut orchard in the US.

          • Ray Kinney

            You don’t research well. I am an organic chestnut farmer, and know of perhaps fifty more… and there must be hundreds around the nation… and how many more around the world?
            Just google it and learn.

            • Mlema

              Mary didn’t know there’s more than one kind of chestnut and she’s thinking about the nearly-extinct American chestnut, one of which was recently found in Maine.
              http://www.acf.org/find_a_tree.php
              http://www.wmtw.com/news/tallest-chestnut-tree-in-the-the-americas-located-in-maine/36764692
              You have to feel a little sad that Mary’s missing roasted chestnuts this time of year! 😉

              • mem_somerville

                Oh, I know there are other species. But if there are other species, then pollen crossing isn’t an issue of GMOness, is it?

                I was going to show Ray the same link! He may be confused about what he has!

                • Ray Kinney

                  As GE tech and ‘GMO’s are developed, there will likely be plenty of European chestnut cultivars in organic orchards that are encroached on by pollen from the non-organic and ‘GMO” orchards of European chestnuts. That was my point. And, will ‘organic’ include ‘GMO’, or ‘ will crop values of organic chestnuts drop because of contamination from crops considered outside of organic standards?
                  This was to suggest that value of some crops on particular farms might be compromised by adjacent farm crops.

                  • Ewan R

                    Unless the USDA changes their rules on organic that wouldn’t make any difference though (internal to the US anyway)

                    USDA organic labelling covers production, not what is in the final harvested product.

                    Thus, technically, so long as one adhered to organic standards throughout production, even if 100% of your crop was pollinated by the neighboring crop (which would never happen in reality) and the resulting chestnuts all contained transgenes… your crop would still be USDA organic.

                    Which organic standards are you fearful of falling afoul of exactly?

              • Ray Kinney

                Yes, they are pretty darn good food, and a high value crop per pound. There are asian chestnuts, and european chestnuts as well as the american chestnuts.

            • mem_somerville

              You need to alert the chestnut societies then. How come they are under the impression that the chestnuts disappeared with the blight and have those big restoration projects underway?

              Maybe you have a different species. What species are your organic chestnuts? I would love a link to your evidence. It’s your claim, you have to bring the evidence. That’s how evidence works, Ray.

    • hyperzombie

      “with the results that I could not sell my crop as organic,”

      Why not? There is no rule about GMO contamination.

      • Ray Kinney

        There is an unwritten rule now, for a large segment of society, and probably will be some written rules at points in the future. If GE evolves away from pesticide resistant tech, then, there may be a much more objective public assessment of the desirability of other GE beneficial use compared with the current state of confusion and fear of unintended adverse consequences. If the science would evolve to be seen as more pure science, without so much bias from profit motive that limits appropriate over site, a much better acceptance by the public could allow for improved perceived food sources and safety in the future. Currently, there is a lot of fear generated by past and present abuses of ethics by the chemical industry to allow for balanced assessment by the public.IMHO

        • hyperzombie

          “There is an unwritten rule now,”

          Not really, there are many farmers that grow conventional, GMO and organic crops without a problem.

          “If GE evolves away from pesticide resistant tech”

          Well all crops are pesticide resistant to at least one herbicide and most are resistant to dozens of herbicides.. All are resistant to insecticides, because they are plants not insects.

          “without so much bias from profit motive”

          This is one argument that I don’t get? The big profit motive is in the Organic industry, they are selling people the same thing for 2x more money. Talk about profit.

          • Ray Kinney

            And the chemical industry doesn’t make much off of all those herbicides, i suppose.

            • hyperzombie

              Are you talking about the Organic pesticides or conventional ones?

              • Ray Kinney

                Both of course, but if you added up the costs of all organic use of pesticides, and then added all costs of conventional
                AG pesticide use, you would see what a small proportion was from the organic farms. You are only talking quatitatively anyway, thermal issues are with qualitative issues for toxicology potentials.

                • hyperzombie

                  “but if you added up the costs of all organic use of pesticides”

                  Per acre costs for pesticides are higher for the average Organic farmer.

                  “AG pesticide use, you would see what a small proportion was from the organic farms.”

                  Well it will be a very small proportion, because only 0.6% of farm acres are Certified Organic.

                  • Ray Kinney

                    The costs of all pesticide use should be seen to include those costs externalized onto unintended lands, people, and wildlife. Those costs from organic farm use of any pesticides pale in comparison to other AG pesticide use.

                    • hyperzombie

                      “hose costs from organic farm use of any pesticides pale in comparison to other AG pesticide use”

                      What would make you think that? Other than Bt and spinosad, Organic pesticides are broad spectrum killing all insects not just the targeted ones. If you priced in externalized cost into Commercial Organic farming it would be Far more expensive than it is today.
                      Organic has far higher land use per product than conventional
                      Organic has more nitrogen runoff per unit than conventional.
                      Organic has higher greenhouse gas emissions if you include land use.

                    • Do you have a citation for the runoff? I have seen studies that show organic has lower N in runoff, though I haven’t seen any that isolate what it is about organic ag (more complex rotations, different fertilizer type, etc) that reduces N in runoff, and I suspect these studies use worst case scenario as the conventional fertilizer application.

                    • hyperzombie

                      “Do you have a citation for the runoff?”

                      Well not handy but I think I found it here.

                      “I have seen studies that show organic has lower N in runoff,”

                      Well per acre it is slightly lower, but per unit it is higher.

                      I will look for the study.

                    • Ewan R

                      The Rodale study shows equivalent N runoff between their organic and conventional fields over long periods of time. Each method has good years and bad years.

                    • hyperzombie

                      But when you compare N run off to per unit of production, Organic on average has more nitrogen run off.

                    • hyperzombie
                    • Chris Preston

                      Attempting to do these comparisons is difficult because of the significant differences in crops, farm size and practices. Studies looking at overall N movement, the concentration is on conventional agriculture, because organic agriculture is such a small part of the total. On the other hand, the organic agriculture literature on the topic suffers from a tendency to compare idealised organic production practices with outmoded conventional production practices (for example, no-till is almost completely ignored in favour of high-intensity cultivation representing the conventional practice) and is rarely helpful. Add to this the differences in organic practices between spreading manure and using green manures for N and teasing out the comparisons is hard.

                      There is a general view that applying N as a complex organic matter substrate as opposed to bag N will reduce run-off. This is correct if all the N were to be applied at once. However, that is no longer how much of conventional farming operates. It tends to apply N in a number of smaller applications attempting to match plant demand with supply through the growing season. Soluble N in excess of plant requirements could be washed off during rainfall events, regardless of whether that N comes from organic matter or from the bag.

                      A second complicating factor is water movement. N will only run-off agricultural land if water runs-off. No-till soils have less water erosion, more water infiltration and less water run-off than cultivated soils.

                      Some relevant research on N run-off from farms. This from Alberta, but useful in terms of discussing the issues. These are all conventionally managed farms, but that doesn’t matter in terms of the principles. Over 3 years there was far more N run-off from the farms where N was applied as manure than from all other systems. Why? Because application of N as manure by its very nature applies a lot of N all at once that the plants cannot use until later in the season. Once that N becomes available it can move. Of the farms without manure, those that were cultivated tended to have more N run-off than the two no-till farms.

                      So in principle, farms relying on spreading manure for N (whether organic or conventional) will have higher N run-off than no-till conventional farms. Organic farms relying on green manures will have run-off closer to that of conventional no-till farms.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      Good post, IMO.

                      I would add that the method of manure application with respect to loss of N (& P) to waterways is dependent on the application method. I apply swine manure, but it’s injected at least 6″ and preferably 8″ deep, which reduces the possibility of surface flows moving N & P to waterways.

                      An organic farmer using an old-fashioned mechanical spreader or honeywagon to surface-apply manure would have much more likelihood of sending N & P into waterways.

                      Also, to amplify your point about split N applications I would point out that under organic production, split N application is very difficult if not impossible. For instance, in planting corn, I apply a few lbs. of 10-34-0 in-furrow and also do a 2×2 application of UAN 28 or 32 plus liquid P&K all in one pass. There is no way to do than organically so far as I know, since U.S. National Organic Program standards prohibit manure application less than 120 days in-crop.

                      One last thing, another thing that organic producers can’t do is use N stabilizers. Nitrapyrin N-stabilizers can be very useful from both an economic and an environmental perspective by managing Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter activity.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      Also, there can be a huge difference in run off due to soil type. My place is deep sand. Virtually no water runs off my land. My concern is leaching.

                    • Ray Kinney

                      Not the organic farms I know.

                    • hyperzombie

                      Well you don’t know anything about farming so how would you know?

                    • Correct, I know very little about large scale farming, either conventional or organic. I do know a lot more about small scale organic farming.. though that may account for nothing in your book. However, that small scale operation holds a lot of importance for the segment of society that I am most closely involved with and value highly. I am advocating for knowledge by small scale organic farming to inform other agriculture when and where possible… There are important contributions to be made by small farming to make ultimate improvements toward a more sane food future.

                    • hyperzombie

                      That is the biggest problem with Organic, it doesn’t scale up well. Organic should be reserved as a luxury product, it is not for the masses.

                    • Ray Kinney

                      Organic was almost all there was for thousands of years, until very recently. That limited production to supporting sustainable populations. Since the industrialization of AG, the ‘masses’ have been ‘massively’ increased and caused ‘massive’ overuse of available habitat… providing a bigger market base for ‘massive’ profit- taking. Now, we have ‘massive’ headaches of climate change and ubiquitous habitat pollution that will ‘massively’ threaten our masses. Be careful what you wish for… growth that is out of control is the definition of cancer. Profit-taking needs to have adequate ethics. IMHO

                    • hyperzombie

                      “Organic was almost all there was for thousands of years, until very recently”

                      Nope, Organic is just a few years older than GMO 1990 or so. In the past all farming was conventional, no one had anytime for elitist foods

                      “That limited production to supporting sustainable populations”

                      So what are you saying? That back in the old days most children starved to death, and this was good thing all sustainable and stuff?

                      “providing a bigger market base for ‘massive’ profit- taking.”

                      Wouldnt that be Organic selling you the same thing for 2x more, talk about profit, no wonder an Organic lettuce grower sold for 600 million.

                      “Now, we have ‘massive’ headaches of climate change and ubiquitous habitat pollution that will ‘massively’ threaten our masses.”

                      well ten you should support GMOs, they address these issues far better than Organic or conventional.

                      “Profit-taking needs to have adequate ethics. IMHO”

                      You are very strange, why are you not making these comments to Organic growers?

                    • Ray Kinney

                      Unfortunately, ‘conventional’ is pesticide-laden, and not what existed through those many thousand years.

                    • hyperzombie

                      Ray, that is entirely untrue. The most toxic pesticides known to man were used back in the old days, all of them banned today. Including the arsenates (yes pesticides made from arsenic and lead), coal tars, nicotine sulphate, misc sulphur compounds (a few still allowed), noxious smokes and poultices, mercury compounds, they even used creosote. You lucky to live in an age where the food is so safe and dangerous pesticide free.

                    • You are talking a couple of hundred years, i’m talking several thousand. Almost all of your examples were from early ‘conventional’ Ag… ‘the age of pesticides’.

                    • hyperzombie

                      Well except for the arsenates, the others were used in ancient times.

                    • Captain Moonlight

                      No so. 99.9% of the pesticides in fruit and veg are naturally produced by the plant itself.

                      Organic fruit and veg that is insect damaged may contain more pesticide residues than undamaged conventional fruit and veg because, surprise surprise, an insect damaged plant will often express more natural pesticides to protect itself.

                      BTW, as the above link indicates, natural and synthetic pesticides are equally likely to be toxic to humans.

                    • Ray Kinney

                      So, you say that we should not eat plants, especially organic?
                      Or, since humans have been consuming plants for many thousands of years, exposed to chronic low doses habitually, that we are still very sensitive to adverse effects of these toxicants at environmentally significant levels, such that we are harming our bodies greatly by eating them at all? Or, is it that labs have isolated certain toxins from organic plants, and then tested them during animal studies, at very high doses to yield adverse effects? The nitty-gritty, is more likely that most humans have built up a significant tolerance to small doses of most of these long-existing plant toxins that we are exposed to often, and that in normal doses, we are usually pretty well adapted. Yet, with 85 thousand, largely- new- to- human exposure industrial pollutants released into our environment during only a few hundred years, you feel that we are better able to tolerate all of them than those found in organic foods??? Does not seem very likely, especially since only a couple hundred of those new chemicals have even had any nearly adequate lab research. How do you account for this apparent lack of logic?

                    • JoeFarmer

                      “Or, since humans have been consuming plants for many thousands of years,
                      exposed to chronic low doses habitually, that we are still very
                      sensitive to adverse effects of these toxicants at environmentally
                      significant levels, such that we are harming our bodies greatly by
                      eating them at all?”

                      I have to ask, are you mlema’s doppelganger?

                      You both go off into the weeds for no reason. At least for no reason that education and logic could possibly explain…

                    • Captain Moonlight

                      This is the type of fear-mongering propaganda the organic industry must produce and constantly reinforce to justify its 50% to 200% price markups.

                      The tiny pesticide residues in food are inconsequential, which is more than one can say for an organic fresh-from-the-farmers’ market e-coli/norovirus/salmonella contaminated vegetable of the type Chipotle routinely feeds its customers.

                    • Ray Kinney

                      No captain, the logical inference would be that there is far less likely to be environmentally significant toxicants to deal with in organic foods than in crops sprayed with massive numbers of very new, less than adequately studied man-made toxicants, during this ‘new age of pesticides.’ You seem confused about this logic… and the whole profit-taking industry tries to say there is more risk inherent in organic crops than in ‘conventionally sprayed’ crops. The 50% or 200% higher cost of organic foods is cheap insurance to buy considering the far more unknown risks from the current industrial food paradigm that does not do sufficient science before releasing novel toxicants willy-nilly around the entire globe… all the while saying that all this pollution is necessary and desirable! No sir, I don’t think that it is wise to buy into your logic… and that is why I happily eat 90% organic, while knowing that I am still eating low levels of plant toxicants all the while. IMHO

                    • Captain Moonlight

                      I rather doubt you are capable of forming an honest opinion, Ray. According to you, we live in some dark Satanic Dickensian world in which our food is poisoned and our bodies constantly assaulted by thousands of wicked, murderous chemicals. Doubly so for us fools silly enough to eat conventional food. It is a wonder that anyone lives beyond 40 years of age and infant mortality isn’t back to the levels experienced during a Bubonic plague epidemic in the Middle Ages.

                      Yet those of us who keep fit and trim with a sensible regime of exercise , a modest calorific intake and plenty of vegetables in the diet are likely to live a longer and healthier life than was hitherto imaginable, irrespective of whether that diet is organic. Oddly enough, conventional farmers who use agricultural chemicals are also able to live long healthy lives. And yes, infant mortality has also dropped through the flaw.

                      It is sickening how vain and feckless Westerners such as yourself are promoting a food paradigm that will ensure the deaths of hundreds of millions of people before this century is out if it continues to spread its malignant influence.

                    • “I rather doubt you are capable of forming an honest opinion,”
                      That is exactly what I have done… it is just my opinion, you don’t get that?

                    • Ray Kinney

                      Captain, yes, we’ve come a long way reducing maladies, and we do live longer in general, and I’m glad of it. Now wouldn’t it be a great thing to come to understand how we might go on to improve even more, to reduce asthma, parkinson’s disease, ALS, ADHD, mental diseases, arthritis, heart diseases, autism, glaucoma, etc. ?? I don’t suppose that any of these very serious health problems could have any possibility of being exacerbated, or caused by any of the eighty five thousand mostly novel industrial chemicals now being produced for our benefit (and potential harm)? They probably only harm ‘vain and feckless westerners’ , so how could that harm society? Seriously though, why should we stop trying to improve our disease prevention and treatment by pointedly investigative public health assessment? Possibly even deeper investigation of potential pesticide involvement. Perhaps it is because we need a lot of diseases and symptoms to mask and treat… to fuel the profit machine? Why look into any more causation, that would only cut symptoms.. and profit. Come on we can do better than this captain.

                    • Ray Kinney

                      We might even learn how to better control weeds than we currently do.

                    • Captain Moonlight

                      Ray, you have already told us that you grow and sell organic chest nuts. The organic industry has been behind much of the demonisation of modern agriculture, including the use of synthetic pesticides. This ruthless and dishonest campaign is profit driven capitalism at its ugliest. The organic industry must make folk doubt the safety of food in order to con consumers into paying 50% to 200% on food.

                      I have said elsewhere on Disqus that I would love to see much more money devoted to health research. I would be more than happy if much of that money came at the expense of military expenditure. I would also like to see the government ban all junk food marketing and heavily tax sugar and other “bads” that we know are destroying our health.

                      If there was substance to your fears about ag chems like synthetic pesticides, we would see massive health problems in the “canaries in the coalmine”, that is to say farmers and agricultural workers who with these chemicals every day and it would show up in the research done as part of the 89,000 participant strong US Agricultural Health Survey, which has been running for 20 years. But it hasn’t and I base my opinion on facts not flakey ideology and money driven fear campaigns.

                    • I agree with much of what you say, but differ about significant points too. I do see that much more science needs to continue to be done toward clarifying potential gains for public health.

                    • hyperzombie

                      “very new, less than adequately studied”

                      Funny, because one of the newest pesticides is spinosad, and it is Organic approved. it is very popular with Organic farmers, they spray it on almost everything.

                    • Thanks, I’ll look up its research, maybe it is better than most. Though, I do not belive you are being very accurate in saying that organic farmers are spraying it on nearly everything. The organic farmers I know might rarely come to use it in good IPM situations… but not like you are impying.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      “No captain, the logical inference would be that there is far less likely
                      to be environmentally significant toxicants to deal with in organic
                      foods than in crops sprayed with massive numbers of very new, less than
                      adequately studied man-made toxicants, during this ‘new age of
                      pesticides.”

                      Wow you packed a lot of logical fallacies into one sentence, Ray.

                      How about you explain the factual basis of your claim?

                    • Apparently Campbell Soup and associated brands are going to GMO label.

                    • Ewan R

                      Agriculture has been around for ~10,000 years.

                      The first recorded (not the first, just the first recorded) use of humans utilizing insecticides was ~4,500 years ago in Sumeria. Romans and Greeks were using chemical control methods in agriculture over 2000 years ago. Pyrethium extract has been around for longer than Christianity.

                      So, for many thousands of years ‘conventional’ has, indeed, seen a number of human applied pesticides used to combat insects, weeds and disease. In fact only in the past century or so has our understanding of chemistry been at a point where we actually do much of anything to control anything but the most blindingly obvious of adverse effects of these control methods.

                      As usual, your characterization of agriculture is flawed at a fundamental level. One assumes your continued lack of knowledge in the area will do nothing to

                      a) have you refrain from comment or
                      b) do anything to remedy your abject lack of knowledge

                    • Ray Kinney

                      Yes, that’s the problem indeed, only people that produce their own food locally, or more affluent folk, can generally avoid the riskier food choices dominated by excessive pesticide use. The poor are left, as usual, to have to try to survive while having to suck up our pollutants.

  • Nice article. Re. the final paragraph’s mention that lawsuits over unlicensed use of seed isn’t just a GMO issue, does anyone have links to seed companies suing over misuse of conventionally bred seed? Especially interested if there are significant cases involving saintly organic seed and/or companies other than Monsanto.

    Every Google result that I trawled up with obvious search terms involved GM varieties and either Monsanto or Syngenta (and only Monsanto if the term “organic” was included)… but I suspect this reflects the nature of internet memes and the global echo chamber at least as much as reality.

    • Yes, here’s a link to a lawsuit for patented, non-GMO seeds by BASF: http://www.kait8.com/story/3355679/northeast-arkansas-farmers-agree-to-pay-basf-25-million-to-settle-lawsuit
      I didn’t look for any lawsuits for seeds that could be grown as organic.

      • JoeFarmer

        I find it interesting that the judge had the power to tell the farmers what they could grow. I can see them being prohibited from growing the patented rice, but I think the, “you’re going to plant this” thing is problematic. But it’s a recap of a story, and there’s probably more to it.

        One other thing, if those farmers are able to grow soybeans, that has to mean that they were flood-irrigating to grow their rice. Which probably isn’t the most environmentally-friendly thing in the first place, patent violations notwithstanding.

        • hyperzombie

          “but I think the, “you’re going to plant this” thing is problematic.”

          I think that there is more to it. maybe the judge is worried that the farmers will sue BASF if they grow any other non Clearfield crop and there is herbicide carryover issues? Just a thought.

          • JoeFarmer

            I don’t know. It would be useful to be able to find a transcript of the court decision.

            I don’t feel bad about the patent violators getting punished, but from a farmer perspective, the thought of a judge being able to tell me what I have to plant is really disturbing.

            Herbicide carryover is a thing, but I can’t imagine a judge having authority to manage that decision either. That’s for the producer to decide, not a judge.

            • hyperzombie

              Like I said and you said, there has to be more to it. I cant see a Judge telling any farmer what to grow (like how would they know), it is most likely part of a settlement.

              • JoeFarmer

                Ya, I’m pretty sure that those farmers weren’t blindsided by a judge. It was probably like you said, a negotiated settlement that went to court to get the court’s stamp of approval.

                • hyperzombie

                  Yes that makes sense. BTW I heard in other discussions that clearfield soy “sucks big donkey balls” and that is a direct quote from a midwest farmer. Do you have any experience with clearfield soy?

                  • JoeFarmer

                    I haven’t bought any Clearfield products. I don’t have any reason to believe they are inferior though, and I haven’t heard any of my neighbors say anything good or bad about them. BASF does have a facility near me that includes production acreage but I just don’t have any experience with them.

                    These days, with soybeans, it’s more about the lineage of the bean than the herbicide tolerance traits they might have, whether it be GM or other. In my area, Soybean Cyst Nematode is a real problem, which is an insecticide program management/rotation issue rather than a trait thing along with Sudden Death Syndrome which is a fungal disease. SDS-resistance is a parent line breeding item, affected by weather conditions, which can be somewhat managed by use of fungicides.

                    My soybean program has been to rotate RoundUpReady (now RR2) soybeans with LibertyLink beans. Year 1 corn, Year 2 RR(2) soybeans, Year 3 corn, Year 4 LibertyLink beans. That gives me an edge in terms of post-emergence herbicide options.

                    • hyperzombie

                      Well these guys are Canadian soy farmers. So soy is a new crop to them. i think that after a few years they will get the hang of it.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      Tell them there is no possible way they could ever figure it out so they shouldn’t even try. Tell them if they don’t try to grow beans I won’t try to grow canola…

                      They should just stay home and watch SlapShot.

                      I like your new avatar, can’t figure out what Hanson you are, though, Jeff, Steve or Jack.

    • hyperzombie

      Here is a link to a story about farmers suing to get access to a new Non GMO apple variety, not really what you asked for, but interesting none the less.

      http://lacrossetribune.com/news/local/forbidden-fruit-a-new-apple-the-sweetango-at-center-of/article_d42e6658-b31d-11df-a58c-001cc4c03286.html

  • Mike

    Layla Katiraee is just another spokesperson for Monsanto and company. With a PhD in genetics and working for a genetics biotech company, there is no way she would ever say anything negative about Monsanto or genetically engineered products. I’m sure she either directly or indirectly receives funding from a biotech company.

    • Chris Preston

      This is a particularly unhelpful post.

      All it contains is a big ad hominem fallacy.

      How about discussing some of the points made, rather than casting aspersions?

  • Just a reminder that ad hominem attacks will be removed. Please review our comment policy. http://www.biofortified.org/blog/comment-policy/

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Due to the recent articles claiming a 25% level of RR alfalfa in wild stands. I would appreciate an update on the topic. Seems I am having trouble finding a trustworty source.

    • Hi Eric, I haven’t read anything on this. Could you point me to an article?

    • Chris Preston

      Eric,

      This is the research article

      What they did was look at feral alfalfa populations along roadsides (alfalfa is not native to North America, so it is not accurate to describe feral populations as wild). They found individuals containing the RR trait in 27% of the populations they studied.

      Their data support the idea that the populations are mostly occurring from seed spills during transport.

      • hyperzombie

        And they only looked at it in seed growing areas,,Stop spilling so much alfalfa seed.

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        Thanks Chris, I think I understood most. Except the testing method. Too much geek speak and not enough patience to look up all the terms. Any comments?

        • Chris Preston

          They used an ELISA-based test strip method to determine whether the C4 EPSPS protein was present in the leaf sample. This is the same test that is used to test grain samples to see if they might contain RR seeds above a threshold.

          I would have used PCR to be more definitive, although it would cost more. Indeed that is what we did in our canola road side survey in Australia. Still need to get that paper finished written.