“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time. The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life. Where nothing ever grows, No rain or rivers flow. Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?” – Band Aid, Do They Know It’s Christmas Time
I caught an article earlier in the day about protestors in “over 400 cities” marching against Monsanto – the mega-corporate producer of genetically altered seeds. The general theme of the article is the notion that genetically altered food is somehow dangerous for consumption. I can’t verify such claims, but I’m sure the folks who make them have their talking points (and maybe they’re even right). Experience has taught me that the hyper-naturalist agrarians tend to (a) overreact to anything that’s not organic, pesticide-free, and harvested with hand tools, and (b) completely misunderstand what it takes to feed a world of 6 billion people.
That said, I’m hardly a fan of Monsanto. Their attempts to “corner” the seed market are a little off-putting. Naturally it is expected that a business will attempt to improve its margins, market share, and eventually profits. But the Monsanto approach seems a bit out of bounds from a legal standpoint.
Monsanto’s products are obviously patented – and they want to make sure they get paid for their R&D work (this is fine). So, if they find out that somebody has used Monsanto products without paying for them, they sue – and quite often win. This presents a problem in the farming business, because farmers always reserve the right to generate “seed corn” (or seed anything else) from the current crop. But if you used Monsanto in last year’s crop you can’t do that – it’s a “planting crime” and patent infringement. Or what if you used Monsanto last year and something else this year? Chances are some Monsanto is in the new crop. Heaven help us, what if your neighbor used Monsanto and cross-field contamination introduced patented genes into your field? Can we really demand of farmers that they screen all seed corn to make sure that Monsanto products are filtered out? It seems a bit sketchy to me.
I’m not saying that Monsanto doesn’t have a right to their royalties, or a right to profit from their R&D efforts – they do. But the burden of proof should not be on the farmer. Of course, I also suspect that Monsanto is up against it when push comes to shove. If the market impact becomes too great the DoJ will simply label them a monopoly and break up the cabal. Poorer countries will simply refuse to pay and use whatever seeds they have left. Monsanto had better make their money now before it comes unraveled.
The situation reminds me a bit (but only a bit) of my dealings with the cable company a few years ago. I had decided to switch providers, so I called the old provider to turn off service. The kid on the other end apologized and was sorry to inform me that they couldn’t get a serviceman out to my house for three weeks. I told him that I didn’t care when the serviceman came, I was calling to cut off service – my end of the contract ends now. At this he claimed that I would have to continue to pay for another three weeks. You can imagine that I balked at the suggestion. It’s not my responsibility to make sure they turn off my cable – it’s my responsibility make the phone call.
A bit of a back & forth ensued between myself and the poor kid at the cable company. I tried to explain to him that by his logic, they could simply refuse to send somebody to my house for six months and I’d have to pay for the six months. He came back with some business about not being able to guarantee that I wasn’t receiving free cable. Again, not my problem. They eventually sent me a bill … it never got paid.
I’m not really sure what other recourse Monsanto has. Profits provide incentive for R&D, there are no two ways about it. But any sort of monopoly (or near-monopoly) that attempts to hold sway over food production has a pretty weak hand, politically speaking. The masses would hardly tolerate “subjugation” over something as trivial as patent rights.
Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute – Prov 31:8