And the subject is soybeans, presumably including strains developed by UC Berkeley’s Chris Somerville, who made millions selling genetically modified soy to Monsanto.
Somerville currently serves as head of the campus side of the Energy Biosciences Institute [EBI], funded with $500 million of BP money to develop GMO crops and microbes BP can use to produce transportation fuels.
The Brazilian case centers on one of Monsanto’s most insidious practices: Turning farmers into corporate serfs by banning the the practice at the heart of agriculture since its beginngings — saving seeds to plant next year’s crop — and imposing royalties on farmers whose crops by be contaminated by their own GMOs.
The story from Subodh Varma of the Times of India:
Five million Brazilian farmers have taken on US based biotech company Monsanto through a lawsuit demanding return of about 6.2 billion euros taken as royalties from them. The farmers are claiming that the powerful company has unfairly extracted these royalties from poor farmers because they were using seeds produced from crops grown from Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds, reports Merco Press.
In April this year, a judge in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, ruled in favor of the farmers and ordered Monsanto to return royalties paid since 2004 or a minimum of $2 billion. The ruling said that the business practices of seed multinational Monsanto violate the rules of the Brazilian Cultivars Act (No. 9.456/97).
Monsanto has appealed against the order and a federal court ruling on the case is now expected by 2014.
A telling quote defines the essence of the farmer lawsuit:
“Monsanto gets paid when it sell 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,” Jane Berwanger, lawyer for the farmers told the media agencies.
Here’s a video report from RT
Featuring am interview with Shelly Roche of ByteStyle.TV:
Luisa Massarani, writing for Nature, describes the potential impacts:
Brazil is the second-largest producer of genetically-modified (GM) crops, after the United States. Last year, it farmed 30.3 million hectares of the crops, mostly soya beans, but also corn and cotton. It legalized the growing of GM crops in 2005, after it became clear that about three-quarters of the soya crops produced in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul were already being grown from Roundup Ready seeds that had been smuggled in from Argentina. Because the crop is resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as Roundup, farmers can spray they fields with the chemical to control weeds without risking damage to their crops.
Since the legalization, Monsanto has charged Brazilian farmers 2% of their sales of Roundup Ready soya beans, which now account for an estimated 85% of the nation’s soya-bean crop. The company also tests Brazilian soya beans that are sold as non-GM — if they turn out to be Roundup Ready, the company charges the farmers responsible for the crops some 3% of their sales.
On 12 June, the judges of the Brazilian Supreme Court of Justice ruled against Monsanto, deciding unanimously that the ruling by the Justice Tribune of Rio Grande do Sul, once it is made, should apply nationwide. Monsanto has declined to comment on the case.
Some scientists fear that if the company is forced to repay royalties, it could trigger cuts in funding for biotech research.
If they prevail in the end, the farmers could have a major impact on Somerville’s BP project, which aims at creating massive industrial-scale plantations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia for proprietary agrofuel crops.