Seeds of doubt: Brazilian farmers sue Monsanto
Five million Brazilian farmers are locked in a lawsuit with US-based
biotech giant Monsanto, suing for as much as 6.2 billion euros. They say
that the genetic-engineering company has been collecting royalties on
crops it unfairly claims as its own.
The farmers claim that Monsanto unfairly collects exorbitant profits
every year worldwide on royalties from “renewal” seed harvests.
“Renewal” crops are those that have been planted using seed from the
previous year’s harvest. While the practice of renewal farming is an
ancient one, Monsanto disagrees, demanding royalties from any crop
generation produced from its genetically-engineered seed. Because the
engineered seed is patented, Monsanto not only charges an initial
royalty on the sale of the crop produced, but a continuing 2 per cent
royalty on every subsequent crop, even if the farmer is using a later
generation of seed."Monsanto gets paid when it sell the
seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy
and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again).
Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production,"
Berwanger, lawyer for the farmers told the Associated Press reports.
In the latest installment of the legal battle erupting in South America,
the Brazilian court has ruled in favor of the Brazilian farmers, saying
Monsanto owes them at least US$2 billion paid since 2004. Monsanto,
however, has appealed the decision and the case is ongoing.
In essence, Monsanto argues that once a farmer buys their seed, they have
to pay the global bio-tech giant a yearly fee in perpetuity – with no
At stake is Brazil’s highly profitable and ever growing soybean
production. Last year, Brazil was the world's second
producer and exporter of soybean behind the United States, according to
the AFP report. The crops can be used for anything from animal feed to
bio fuel, and worldwide demand is growing.
Genetically engineered soy first appeared illegally in Brazil in the 1990’s,
smuggled in from neighboring Argentina. The Brazilian farmers found the seed attractive
despite the ban in place from the Brazilian authorities because Monsanto
had specifically designed the seed to be resistant to its own immensely
powerful and popular herbicide Roundup.
When used in tandem, the strong herbicide will kill the weeds while allowing the soy crops
to grow unimpeded. After the ban was lifted, genetically modified seed
flooded the Brazilian market, and now 85 per cent of the Brazilian soy
crop is genetically-engineered. Soy has been extremely successful in
Brazil, currently making up 26 per cent of the country’s farm exports
last year and netting Brazil a total of $24.1 billion, according to AP.
However, Brazil’s farmers were apparently unaware there would be a heavy
price to pay.
To make a deal with Monsanto is to make a deal
with a company that is one the most powerful and pervasive food giants
in the world. It is the world’s number one seed developer, and its
patented genes have been inserted into 95 per cent of all American soy,
and 80 per cent of all American corn crops. Monsanto has repeatedly
levied large damage suits against independent farmers that have
unknowingly or unwittingly used their seed.
And Monsanto’s reach goes far beyond agriculture.
Monsanto is also the world’s largest manufacturer of synthetic bovine growth
hormone, injected into cows in order to stimulate greater milk
production. The widespread pressure by the company to use the chemical
and the subsequent measures taken by Monsanto to suppress information
regarding the potential health risks sparked uproar among American
When dairy producers that did not use Monsanto’s
products began labeling their products as “Hormone Free” or “Organic”,
Monsanto slapped them with a lawsuit as recently as 2008, claiming the
labels amounted to negative advertising against hormone-produced milk.
Director of corporate communications for Monsanto, Phil Angell, summed up
Monsanto’s take on the issue in a report by food author Michael Pollan
for New York Times Magazine in 1998: "Monsanto should not have to
vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much
of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA's job."https://rt.com/news/monsanto-brazil-seed-soy-908/