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Myths about Monsanto Seed

Earlier today, I added a post about a lawsuit brought by Monsanto against a farmer who (presumably and unwittingly) planted seed with Monsanto's protected biotechnology.  As I indicated, the key issue is whether farmers can legally replant the progeny of seed originally bought from Monsanto without paying a technology fee.    

In reading various blogs and listening to the anti-Monsanto crowd, I hear a number of myths that I think are important to clear up:

  • Since the early to mid 1900s, most corn farmers have annually repurchased hybrid seed from seed-sellers.  This is because hybrid seeds are much more productive than the progeny.  So corn farmers having to repurchase seed every year is nothing new and is not a consequence of biotechnology. 
  • The soybeans situation is different in that soybeans are open pollinated.  Thus, before biotechnology soybean farmers could save back some of their crop and replant the progeny without suffering too much in yield loss (at least in the short run).  In the long-run, however, varieties become susceptible to local diseases and pests and seed companies continually develop new varieties that put the old (replanted) varieties at a competitive disadvantage.  So, soybean farmers faced incentives to eventually buy new seed from seed dealers (although it was probably not on an annual basis) even before biotechnology.  
  • My understanding is that when a farmer currently buys soybean from Monsanto, they sign a contract saying they will not to replant the seed.  It is hard for me to see malfeasance when farmers willingly buy seed at prices they are willing to pay while also willingly foregoing the right to replant.  In short, it appears (since more than 90% of the soybean crop is GM) the vast majority of farmers see more benefit in buying Monsanto seed and not replanting than in buying non-biotech (or other non-property-right-protected) seed that allow the option of replanting.
  • The anti-biotech crowd is often up-in-arms over the so-called "terminator gene", which would prohibit the growth of progeny and, as a consequence, force farmers to repurchase seed.  Although the "terminator gene" is theoretical possibility, no commercial seeds being sold contain the genes.  Moreover, back in 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize seeds with the "terminator genes."