We’re all familiar with the Bible’s humble David against the terrible, giant Goliath. David, a simple Israelite soldier dressed in nothing more than a tunic and carrying a slingshot and bag of stones, challenged to battle the nine-foot, heavily armored Philistine Goliath armed with sword and spear. David threw one of his stones at Goliath and hit him in the forehead, sending the giant to the ground, face down. David then took Goliath’s sword and slew him.
There are many similarities between David’s struggle against Goliath and today’s small farmers’ struggles against agribusiness giants like Monsanto.
It all started in 1997, far north in Canada. A canola farmer, Percy Schmeiser, found that some of the canola growing on his farm was resistant to Roundup, a weed killer. It turned out that the Roundup-resistant canola was from seeds that had blown onto his farm from neighboring fields. The canola plants in the neighboring fields were from genetically modified (GM) seed stock and patented by Monsanto. Schmeiser saved seeds from the Roundup-resistant canola (on his property) and planted them the next year. Monsanto sued him for patent infringement. After a lengthy court battle, six years later the Canadian Supreme Court held 5-4 in favor of Monsanto. It agreed with the law of its American neighbor to the south, holding that Schmeiser had infringed on Monsanto’s patent by planting the Roundup-resistant canola without a license.
This success led Monsanto to file more than 140 lawsuits against farmers in the succeeding years. In the 11 cases that went to trial, Monsanto won them all. While it’s possible that some of the defendants may have intentionally attempted to violate Monsanto’s patents by growing GM seeds without a license, the fear of many farmers is what happens if they unintentionally grow seeds from plants whose seeds were inadvertently mixed into the seeds intended for planting.
The situation left behind by giant agribusiness lawsuits against farmers has parallels with biblical David and Goliath. While David was a modest soldier wearing a tunic, small farmers have scant resources. Goliath, protected by armor and wielding powerful weapons, is reminiscent of large agribusinesses armed with expensive attorneys and unlimited resources.
The Farmers Fight Back
After years and over a hundred lawsuits, farmers are fighting back. In 2011, more than 50 farmers sued Monsanto to prevent the agribusiness from suing farmers if they grow crops inadvertently tainted with GM crops. Unfortunately, in June 2013, an appellate court dismissed the lawsuit, because Monsanto promised not to sue if a farmer accidently grows a small amount of their patented GM plants.
Consumers are also fighting back. In November 2012, California voters narrowly defeated a ballot proposition that would have required labeling GM foods. Voters in Washington state will vote on such a ballot measure this fall. Voters in Jackson County, Oregon will vote on a measure in March 2014 that would ban growing GM crops in the county, joining three counties in California that already have similar bans in place (Marin, Mendocino, Trinity counties).
Despite active attempts to defeat GM crops, a new threat to American farmers has emerged — GM wheat. Unlike corn or canola, the United States government has not approved the growth or sale of GM wheat in the country. However, as reported earlier by Off The Grid News, GM wheat has showed up on farms in Kansas and Oregon. This has serious implications to these farmers, some of whom sell GM-free wheat to foreign markets where GM crops are banned (parts of Europe, Australia and Asia). For example, due to the GM-tainted wheat showing up in Oregon, Japan recently cancelled a 25,000-ton order of it from the state. Farmers in Oregon are now suing Monsanto, alleging that Monsanto’s trial runs of GM wheat infected their wheat. Monsanto denies growing wheat in areas near the infected wheat. It’s too soon to tell what the outcome of this lawsuit will be, but Off The Grid News is monitoring it.
Of course, Monsanto has not been idle. As Off The Grid News reported, the informally-called Monsanto Protection Act has been signed by President Obama. According to some sources, Monsanto had an active role in drafting this legislative nightmare. Previous law allowed federal courts to halt USDA’s approval of the testing or sale of GM plants. Now, though, federal courts no longer have this authority to do so.
David and Goliath is one of those heroic endeavors with a successful conclusion. However, it is not clear how the battle between small farmers and consumers will fare against giant agribusiness. Despite growing consumer sentiment against GM crops, and some recent legal attempts, large agribusiness’ string of successful lawsuits, almost unlimited resources, and the Monsanto Act give them an advantage. This time, David may not prevail against Goliath.