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A Victory Against Monsanto, but the GMO War Rages on

The battle between farmers and Monsanto is like David versus Goliath. The battle between farmers and Monsanto is like David versus Goliath.


It was starting to feel like the little guy, David, could not win against Goliath. In this story, Monsanto is undoubtedly the Goliath of agriculture and local farmers are the countless Davids who get cheated for their hard labor. Normally, Monsanto makes billions to pay their pit bull-style legal teams, but a recent event has shaken up the system and given way to the possibility of a real happy ending for the little guy.

This story is about how the farmers of Brazil sued Monsanto and won. Though, there is another legal battle brewing for them, the courage they have shown and the momentum that is gaining due to their victory showcases that David may beat the giant after all.

Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops, with only the United States producing more GMOs. Most of those are soybeans. About 85 percent of Brazil’s soy bean crop growth is produced from genetically engineered seeds. Brazil exports $24 billion U.S. dollars worth of soy beans annually.

In 2009, five million Brazilian farmers took on Monsanto with a lawsuit demanding the giant return the money that had been taken from them.

The farmers of Brazil however, never intended to be the second-largest GM crop producers. In fact, GM soy beans were illegal in Brazil up until 2005 when they were smuggled through other parts of Latin America. When planted, the spread of the seeds happened through the natural system of plant pollination and the ancient practice of crop renewal.

Wind-borne GM pollen landing on non-GM crops and the renewal crop planting of Monsanto GMO seeds from previous years of harvest led to the proliferation of GMO plants and seeds in Brazil.

Instead of farmers receiving compensation for contaminated Monsanto crops, the agri-giant demanded to get paid due to a deliberately confusing patent system stating that anyone who infringes on the rights of the patent, even unintentionally, is still held responsible for it. Farmers said Monsanto also collected profits from them annually on renewal crops that were planted from Monsanto GMO seeds of previous years.

“Monsanto gets paid when it sells the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again). Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production,” said Jane Berwanger, a lawyer representing the farmers.

The corporation charged a two percent royalty fee for repurposing the seed for renewal crops, even though the seeds may be from a previous generation. Their claim was that the patent for all of their GMO seeds and seed technology required farmers who used those seeds to owe them royalties to the tune of 6.5 billion euros (7.8 billion U.S. dollars) over the course of the many harvest years.

In 2009, five million Brazilian farmers took on Monsanto with a lawsuit demanding the giant return the money that had been taken from them. Part of the reason for their bold move was that the patents had expired.

After years of legal back and forth, Giovanni Conti, a judge in Rio Grande do Sul, decided that Monsanto's profits were obtained illegally. He ordered Monsanto to stop collecting payments and return the money they had already taken, or at least pay back a minimum of $2 billion U.S. dollars. The ruling stated that Monsanto’s business practices violated the rules of the Brazilian Cultivars Act. Monsanto appealed the judge's decision and took the matter to the Brazilian Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided that however the appeal turns out will be applied to the whole country's farming system. A court ruling on the case is expected by 2014.

If the appeals court rules against Monsanto, it would represent a major victory for Brazilian farmers and may open the gates for other Davids to be just as bold. Now, that would make for a great ending to this story.

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Brazilian farmers battle back against GMO giant Monsanto.
Last modified on Monday, 25 June 2012 13:21

Laura Vladimirova is a freelance journalist currently based out of New York City. Years of long-term travel abroad have made her a passionate lifestyles writer. Her favorite subjects include art, people, archaeology, travel, cultural events, health, and green living. When she's not typing away at her keyboard or getting her passport stamped, she's probably enjoying the great outdoors.

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/LauraV

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