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Posted by on Jan 10, 2013 in Environment, Featured, Health, Science & Technology | 9 comments

Organic Farmers Argue Patent Case Featuring Roundup

Farmers v MonsantoThe case is Organic Seed Growers and Trade Asscociation et al. vs. Monsanto. The argument, slated January 10, 2013, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, contends that the farmers have standing in this case that protects “farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) seed, which can contaminate organic and non-GE farmers’ crops.”

According to the plaintiffs, between 1997 and 2010 “Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers and settled another 700 out of court.” The result is an “atmosphere of fear” given that some farmers found themselves in bankruptcy following the lawsuits.

This isn’t the type of intellectual property law that gets the Net into a dither, but perhaps it should be.

[Monsanto is] the world’s leading producer of Roundup, a herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate. Monsanto is also the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds on the planet, accounting for over 90% of the GE seeds planted globally in 2003.

The two are intrinsically linked. “Roundup-Ready” seeds are designed for farmers to spray Roundup on top of the growing plants, killing weeds (“and any other green thing the herbicide touches”) without hurting the crops.

No surprise, then, that according to SourceWatch, “Monsanto is one of the ‘Big 6’ Biotech Corporations, along with BASF, Bayer, Dow Chemical Company, Dupont, and Syngenta.”

Also no surprise that a WSU researcher has found genetically engineered (GE) seed means increased herbicide use:

I started tracking the development of herbicide-tolerant technology in the late 1980s during my tenure as the Executive Director of the NAS Board on Agriculture (1984-1990). Even back then, years before the technology’s commercial launch in 1996, weed management experts were expressing concern that glyphosate-tolerant, Roundup Ready (RR) crops could lead to the emergence of resistant weeds.

In the first years of use, RR crops triggered a shift in herbicide selection from several low-dose imidazolinone and sulfonylurea herbicides to a relatively high-dose herbicide, glyphosate. USDA pesticide use data released in the late 1990s clearly reflects such shifts.

In his peer-reviewed paper analyzing pesticide use in the GE era, Charles Benbrook found:

Today’s major GE crops have increased overall pesticide use by 404 million pounds from 1996 through 2011 (527 million pound increase in herbicides, minus the 123 million pound decrease in insecticides). Overall pesticide use in 2011 was about 20% higher on each acre planted to a GE crop, compared to pesticide use on acres not planted to GE crops.

There are now two-dozen weeds resistant to glyphosate, the major herbicide used on HT crops, and many of these are spreading rapidly. Millions of acres are infested with more than one glyphosate-resistant weed. The presence of resistant weeds drives up herbicide use by 25% to 50%, and increases farmer-weed control costs by at least as much.

The biotechnology-seed-pesticide industry’s primary response to the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds is development of new HT varieties resistant to multiple herbicides, including 2,4-D and dicamba. These older phenoxy herbicides pose markedly greater human health and environmental risks per acre treated than glyphosate. Approval of corn tolerant of 2,4-D is pending, and could lead to an additional 50% increase in herbicide use per acre on 2,4-D HT corn (emphasis added).

In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published research (pdf) documenting that the “traditional” seed supply for corn, soybean and canola had become contaminated with DNA from genetically engineered crops.

And it’s not just other seed that have become contaminated. Research from Germany published last year showed that glyphosate was detected in the urine of urban (Berlin) males at 5 to 20-times the limit for drinking water. And a recent report on toxicity is also troubling.

It’s our food supply, but no one with even an ounce of power seems to be watching.