Monsanto's GMO Seeds May No Longer Be Invincible

Ever since the introduction of genetically modified crops into the food chain, the tussle has been largely between farmers and Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) , which says since 1997 it has filed 145 lawsuits against farmers who've improperly reused its patented seeds, or on average about one lawsuit every three weeks for 16 straight years.

Canola field. Source: SXC.hu.

In that time frame, the biotech hasn't lost a single case, even when farmers like the organic growers who had their case against Monsanto tossed last year sued for cross-contamination of their crops. DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , the world's second-largest seed producer behind Monsanto, is similarly seeking to police the use of its seeds by hiring retired police officers to ferret out farmers allegedly improperly using its patented seeds. Defeating the well-financed GMO behemoth has been a losing battle, but that may be about to change.

In 2010, a western Australia organic farmer, Steve Marsh, found that his harvest had been contaminated by his neighbor's genetically modified canola/rapeseed crops planted with Monsanto Roundup Ready seed. Marsh subsequently had 70% of his farm's organic status for produce stripped from him causing severe financial harm, some $85,000 in earnings. In a first of its kind lawsuit, Marsh is suing his neighbor for the loss resulting from the seeds blowing onto his oat and wheat crop, contaminating them.

The significance of the case is that if Marsh can successful defend his property rights, it will create a disincentive for farmers to use GM seeds if they know they will be held liable for the equivalent of "polluting" a neighbor's property. Just as a company can be held liable for toxic runoff that contaminates an adjacent piece of land, this lawsuit seeks to hold GM farmers liable for their "runoff" that ruins a neighbor's livelihood.

But the lawsuit could cut both ways if successful, because it may cause Australia to relax its otherwise-strict zero-tolerance policy toward GM produce. Unlike the U.S. and elsewhere where the probability of cross-contamination is acknowledged and trace amounts of GMOs are permitted in crops that are otherwise labeled "organic," Australia doesn't have that distinction. Organic means 100% organic with no trace GMOs permitted, and that might change in a bid to allow peaceful coexistence. But if Marsh loses the case, then GM farmers and Monsanto can rest easy knowing they'll be able to plant their lab-altered seed without consequence.

Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  )  control 53% of the world's seed production with their GM variants. Virtually all alfalfa, corn, soybean, and sugar beet seed are genetically modified, and because of their widespread use in processed foods, it means anywhere from 60% to 70% of all food on supermarket shelves is genetically modified. Dupont and Syngenta have teamed up with Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) to fight a new law in Hawaii that prohibits the planting of new GM crops on the big island. 

The Australian farmer Marsh regained his organic certification last November following his neighbor agreeing to modify his harvesting methods to minimize the opportunity for his GM seeds to cross contaminate adjacent properties. Unfortunately for organic farmers not located in Australia, the tolerance for GMO traces in organic produce means they would have a steeper hill to climb, though perhaps on the basis of a property rights protection issue, it could be a wedge to sever the unrestrained proliferation of genetically modified seed.

Because Monsanto requires farmers to sign non-liability clauses when they purchase seeds from the biotech, it's insulated from being a party to the lawsuit directly, though it demurred when specifically asked whether it was providing financial assistance to the defense. But a win by Marsh could show there is indeed a chink in Monsanto's armor of invincibility.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (8)

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  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 5:08 PM, getthefacts4 wrote:

    #1 The probable 1000 different Monsanto seed varieties are constantly changing every year with corn hybrids totally changed every 3 years - so no seed is invincible.

    #2 This articles says nothing new.

    #3 It shows the weakness in the Australian process that doesn't allow some mixing

    Nothing is 100% just ask the British eating horse meat instead of beef !

    We are so busy chasing unimportant issues for health that we are missing the real health issues. Example the UK was avoiding GM soy and feeding recycled cow brains to cattle and caused mad cows disease. But at least it was organic !

    organic food kills verey year but people ignore that as a risk ....you don't report organic food is killing people ......it doesn't attack a corporation in the limelight.

    Never mind that most organic food is made by major corporations or millionaire owners.

    Even if the organic farmer totally loses this case his future is sealed as a hero against Gm and Monsanto. He is quite likely to be able to make a nice living going on a speaking tour like Percy Schmeiser of Canada who lost even at the Supreme court and still claims he won.

    How about some meaningful discussion on how we can increase food production (yes even with organic means) ?

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 6:39 AM, IlluminatiKills wrote:

    This article is really about the Illuminati murdering people. You have to read between the lines to see the lies.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 8:50 AM, targeyone wrote:

    If you ask me, we aren't eating enough Roundup. We need more Roundup in our food. On a genetic level, please.

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 8:51 AM, funfundvierzig wrote:

    getthefacts4, as an individual investor in the agricultural arena, MON, SYT, DOW, DE, AVD, thank you for a balanced and commonsense discussion. There has been a distracting explosion of Luddite science fiction, which too rarely is countered by unalloyed factual information. ...funfun..

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 11:05 AM, Farmhound wrote:

    Oh Richy Dupree. Someday Someday of all the anti/gloom/doom/chicken little GMO articles Someday you continue to hope for a small atom of You Where Right Pie. (Organic of course. Make sure to clean the animal waste from your berries before ingesting.)

    First of all the recent suit brought by Organic Farmers that was dismissed did NOT involve contamination. It was brought just in case there might be, could be contamination. And then if there might be, could be contamination and MON or some other evil company sued them, they would have a get out of jail free card.

    How many more times will you continue to proclaim this is it. This is the suit that will bring down technology?

    Your are ripe!

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 3:34 PM, CrazyDocAl wrote:

    Lots of information missing here. Was it really the seeds of these plants that caused the problem or was it the roundup being sprayed on the crops that drifted over to the neighbor's crops? From what I understand is that the organic crops were/ are oats and wheat.

    So one farmer has rapeseed and canola while the other has oat and wheat. I don't think they cross pollinate so any contamination would just be surface. One would have to assume if you are using a roundup ready crop you are going to use roundup on that crop. Roundup is absorbed into the plant. So it's likely what really happened is roundup was transferred from one field to another.

    I don't see where Monsanto has to worry. I also don't see how the case is going to go for the organic farmer. Too many farms use weed killers and pesticides. To say that one organic farm has the right to force every other farm in the area to stop spraying because the wind could contaminate crops would destroy modern farming. It also would mean that an organic farmer could sue motorists for their exhaust fumes getting on their plants (as well as any other contaminate in the air).

  • Report this Comment On February 14, 2014, at 9:07 PM, yoki wrote:

    Monsanto has contaminated the health of all nature including humans..the CEO &

    the bio-engineers should be shot cold blooded no different then they killing us....

    in fact these so called scums don't eat gmo !!!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 7:50 PM, Weitzhuis wrote:

    GMO's are not toxic, like that runoff and if Mr. Baxter is held liable for his GM canola runoff then Mr. Marsh should be held equally liable for his oats and wheat runoff.

  • Report this Comment On March 15, 2014, at 6:01 PM, Weitzhuis wrote:

    It seems that Mr. Marsh's case is circling the drain.

    http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/03/13/cross-conta...

    I believe that happens clockwise in Australia.

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