The U.S. Supreme Court, brought to you by Monsanto

This is the story of a farmer going against one of the largest, most powerful corporations in the world. It’s called Vernon Hugh Bowman v. Monsanto Co. and I’m afraid it’s not going to have a happy ending.

Monsanto is an agricultural business titan whose most prominent product is the “Roundup Ready” gene. Monsanto genetically engineers seeds to be resistant to an herbicide called glyphosate, better known by Monsanto’s commercial name for it, Roundup. They sell the Roundup Ready seeds to farmers so the farmers can use their Roundup weed-killer without fear of killing the crops. Of course, Monsanto expects to be paid handsomely for its scientific ingenuity. They expect to be paid over and over again.

Vernon Bowman, a 75-year-old wheat and soybean farmer from Indiana, has been purchasing Roundup Ready soybean seeds for years and still legally uses them for his main crop today. He had to sign a Technology Use Agreement, promising he wouldn’t save the soybeans he grew and replant them. After all, if Bowman had the right to replant the genetically modified seeds, he wouldn’t need to go back to Monsanto and pay for more.

In 1999, Bowman decided to start planting a second annual crop of soybeans late in the growing season. This crop had a higher chance of failure, so Bowman didn’t want to pay top shelf for seeds that might not yield anything. He started buying cheaper, second-hand commodity seeds from a local grain elevator. The seeds he got were of mixed variety, having originally been sold to the grain elevator by many different farmers. However, Monsanto has such a stranglehold on the industry that 90 percent of all soybean seeds in Indiana contain the Roundup Ready gene. Bowman hadn’t signed a Technology Use Agreement for the second-hand seeds. He sprayed the crop with Roundup and carried on the normal business of planting and harvesting.

Monsanto sued Bowman for patent infringement to the tune of $84,000. Bowman appealed, arguing that Monsanto’s patent ends after the first purchase and use of the seed product.

On Feb. 12, shortly before Bowman’s case was heard by the Supreme Court, the Center for Food Safety and Save Our Seeds published a report titled “Seed Giants vs. U.S. Farmers.” It found that “As of January 2013, Monsanto, alleging seed patent infringement, had filed 144 lawsuits based on purported violations of its Technology Use Agreement and its patents on seed technology. These cases involve 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses or farm companies, in at least 27 different states.” If a Monsanto seed gets carried on the wind and lands in a farm that hasn’t paid for it, Monsanto can and will sue that farm.

If I ever meet Monsanto’s CEO, I suspect he will swivel around in his black throne, stroking his sinister mustache and cackling dementedly as he informs me the world will soon tremble before the awesome power of his orbital death ray. This company has continually demonstrated it will do absolutely anything for a profit, including infiltrating the U.S. government. In fact, U.S> Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto lawyer, though he didn’t see that conflict of interest as cause to recuse himself from the Bowman case.

In all likelihood, the same Supreme Court that decided corporations are people will rule in favor of Monsanto’s right to make money no matter what. Now that people are moving back and forth between the private sector and government with impunity, the law can be made into whatever serves the interests of profit. Chief Justice Roberts gave voice to those interests during the case hearing: “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”

I’ll let you answer that, President George Washington: “It is miserable for a farmer to be obliged to buy his Seeds; to exchange Seeds may, in some cases, be useful; but to buy them after the first year is disreputable.” In other words, people should be able to grow their own seeds.

We’ve become so obsessed with the virtues of private capital that we’re patenting genes and selling them on the stock market; making laws that value the greed of the exchange over the humanity of the exchangers; declaring our moral allegiance to the corporation and not the farmer. There are certain basic characteristics of being alive that money should not be allowed to infect.

Originally published in The Lumberjack (


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