Sara Kugler, @sarakug
May 13, 2013
Editor’s note: In last semester’s Politics of Environmental Justice class, students discussed genetically modified foods and Monsanto Company. The class considered the case Bowman v. Monsanto Company, which was being argued in the Supreme Court. Today, the final ruling was delivered.
This morning, the Supreme Court delivered a unanimous ruling in the case Bowman v. Monsanto Co., affirming the Federal Circuit decision holding that “patent exhaustion does not permit a farmer to reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting without he patent holder’s permission.”
The case regarded farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman’s use of Monsanto Company’s patented Roundup Ready soybean seed, a genetically modified seed that is resistant to herbicide. Monsanto requires farmers who use the seeds to sign an agreement stating they will only plant the seeds for one growing season. After being sued by Monsanto for reusing Roundup Ready seeds in a second harvest season, Bowman petitioned that his continued use was legally permissible through the patent law. Today, the Supreme Court disagreed.
The ruling doesn’t come as a surprise after the tenor of the oral argument, which was heavily critical of Bowman’s legal claims. But it likely comes to the dismay of many farmers already wary of Monsanto’s aggressive enforcement of their genetically modified seeds. In the oral arguments, Monsanto’s lawyer stated that inadvertent infringement of their patent laws would not concern the company. Yet many farmers have found themselves the targets of Monsanto’s legal team – even in cases when the patented seeds have blown unknown onto a farmer’s fields, or, such as in the case of Gary Rinehart, no Monsanto seeds were ever used.
Farmers have increasingly less choice in their ability to choose not to interact with Monsanto; since 2005, the company has been purchasing top agricultural businesses, allowing it to increase its stake in the food market. Per Monsanto’s own brief in the case, the company now owns more than 90 percent of soybean production in the United States.