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5 Million Farmers Sue Monsanto for $7.7 Billion (readersupportednews.org)
461 points by captainsinclair on June 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments

Good for them. I've never met a company that could sue you because a honey bee or some other naturally event that has been occurring for hundreds of years happened. To that I'm referring to Monsato's practice of suing farmers who haven't used their seed variety having their fields cross pollinated with another farmer's fields who is using Monato's seed products. Really?! Ugh.

No not really. I think you are referring to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto_Canada_Inc._v._Schmeis...

Read the case. He knowingly planted Roundup Ready plants across his whole field. Alternatively, find a case for what you say happened happening before you assume it to be true.

That's rather presumptive to assume that wheaties is talking about the case you just pulled from Wikipedia.

It only took one Google search to find a case describing exactly what wheaties described: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18563_162-4048288.html

The Runyons say they signed no agreements, and if they were contaminated with the genetically modified seed, it blew over from a neighboring farm.

"Pollination occurs, wind drift occurs. There's just no way to keep their products from landing in our fields," David said.

"What Monsanto is doing across the country is often, and according to farmers, trespassing even, on their land, examining their crops and trying to find some of their patented crops," said Andrew Kimbrell, with the Center For Food Safety. "And if they do, they sue those farmers for their entire crop."

In fact, in Feb. 2005 the Runyons received a letter from Monsanto, citing "an agreement" with the Indiana Department of Agriculture giving it the right to come on their land and test for seed contamination.

Only one problem: The Indiana Department of Agriculture didn't exist until two months after that letter was sent. What does that say to you?

He didn't just plant Roundup-ready seeds. He took advantage of the fact that they were Roundup-ready.

The way Roundup works is, the seeds confer resistance in crops to an herbicide. The herbicide is easily obtainable and cheap; the only thing interesting about it is that if you plant special Roundup-ready seeds, you can easily use it to kill weeds without killing crops.

for those that don't understand the implications of this:

the runyons claim that the seeds got there accidentally, and imply that they had no knowledge of the seeds' origins. given that they also sprayed Roundup on their crops, the claim just makes no sense. if your crops are not "Roundup-ready", Roundup will kill your crops along with the weeds.

if it was really the wind that blew in some seeds, then they never would have sprayed Roundup on their crop.

I can think of an extremely simple experiment that can be run on a field of unknown corn to determine if it is Roundup ready, in a few hours, with only the loss of a couple of corn plants and less than a teaspoon of Roundup.

I think it's pretty well stipulated in this case that the farmer knew the field was sown with Roundup-ready crops, and that the farmer deliberately employed Roundup to exploit that.

The farmer's argument was that they didn't sow those seeds deliberately, and that they should therefore be allowed to take advantage of the Roundup-ready properties of the field without paying licensing fees.

I don't have a strong opinion about the validity of that argument, except to note that Monsanto is in this case in a bind very similar to that of IP rightsholders. Seeds can be propagated like bits; in theory, that propagation occurs without any cost to Monsanto. But in practice, widespread unauthorized copying destroys the Monsanto business model.

The possibility of unintended propagation of Monsanto seeds probably makes them less sympathetic than IP rightsholders; nobody accidentally pirates a full-length movie.

how does this experiment have any relation to reality?

i think you're implying that this farmer happened upon an entire field of crops that he did not plant, then determined that this field was seeded using roundup-ready seeds, and then sprayed roundup on that field.

do you really think that the entire field was planted by the wind? do you think that this guy left his fields fallow and then the wind just seeded the entire thing? or that he planted his own seeds, but then the wind blew in enough seeds to displace enough of his crop that he could spray it with roundup and still have enough crop left for a good yield?

My observation is simply that the claim that it doesn't make sense for someone to serendipitously discover that their crops are Roundup-ready isn't really true. Is it the dominant-probability hypothesis? Heck no. It is, however, sufficiently likely that sooner or later it will happen.

In fact, if the genes get out there in the wild, and Monsanto de facto forbids people from discovering this fact, it isn't inconceivable that the genes could spread far and wide without anyone actually noticing until much later.

That's not a lawsuit, I can't find a suit filed anywhere by Monsanto against the Runyons.

Also if theses seeds blow all over the place contaminating everything then all monsanto would have to do is stand on the side of the road and wait for a seed to blow over. No need to trespass.

Link to court documents not Monsanto PR or GMO protestor PR. What you find in court is a lot different than what GMO protestors say and is actually a lot closer to what Monsanto says IMHO. But again, ignore the Monsanto PR and just look to the court docs which contain facts as determined by a judge and not hearsay.

I used that case because it's the most famous one people refer too. Runyon is another famous person. Look, I've watched Food Inc too. Again, show me the case (which I believe does not exist). You showed me a news article. Otherwise this is just someone who has been in a bunch of movies and is suing Monsanto, and is not really an unbiased source (just like I don't link directly to Monsanto's website on the Runyons.)

I don't know what level of evidence would satisfy you, as you seem to have a pre-existing bias against the farmers' claims.

Monsanto attempted to sue, then dropped its case against the Runyons. Given Monsanto's otherwise litigious history, and the damage that would be done to the company if they were to lose a case like this in court, the evidence points in favor of the farmer.

Statements like "I believe (any case) does not exist" and "this is just someone who has been in a bunch of movies" show bias, and tell me that you're unlikely to accept anything short of a full and frank confession from Monsanto that they have aggressively sued innocent farmers.

What do you call a company that pursues cases like the one cited in the CBS News article about Mo Parr?

74-year-old Mo Parr is a seed cleaner; he is hired by farmers to separate debris from the seed to be replanted. Monsanto sued him claiming he was "aiding and abetting" farmers, helping them to violate the patent.

"There's no way that I could be held responsible," Parr said. "There's no way that I could look at a soy bean and tell you if it's Round-up Ready."

The company subpoenaed Parr's bank records, without his knowledge, and found his customers. After receiving calls from Monsanto, some of them stopped talking to him.

"It really broke my heart," Parr said. "You know, I could hardly hold a cup of coffee that morning,"

I won't make any further arguments about this, because I'm not trying to change your mind if its already made up.

It blows my mind that there are people on HN confusing opposition to the horrific practices that Monsanto uses with opposition to GM crops in general. I am a supporter of GM strains of crops, because I think they have proven environmental benefits. However, what Monsanto did to the seed cleaner is no different than blaming BitTorrent for piracy. The only difference is that BitTorrent sites actually have a somewhat possible way to determine copyrighted works from open works. The seed cleaner is being sued simply because his services are utilized by people trying to cheat Monsanto as well as those who are simply seeking to continue growing their heirloom strains. This isn't justice. This is simply a huge corporation with vast legal resources doing whatever is necessary to prevent theft of their IP rights, even if that involves trampling people that committed no crimes. It is cheaper for Monsanto to put every seed cleaner out of business than to go after the actual IP infringers. But it is not really legal, and only holds up in court because the seed cleaners can't afford to fight Monstanto's legal shield, and too few judges bother to inform themselves on the topic.

I am a supporter of GM strains of crops, because I think they have proven environmental benefits.

I'm not trying to argue over this and I certainly won't try to change your mind, but if you haven't already seen it, this 30 year long study[1] is an interesting read and suggests that organic farming has many benefits over conventional farming and GM crops. I totally understand that the Rodale Institute has an interest in proving this to be the case, but I'd argue that the pro-GM studies are also performed by groups and companies that have an interest in proving their results too. In any case, I'm only trying to offer information on a potential counter-view, not start an argument neither of us could win anyway. :)

[1] http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/files/FSTbookletFINAL.pdf

I like your analogy of equating going after the seed cleaners with BitTorrent. I'd argue it's way worse than that also because, if my understanding is correct, the seed cleaning is an integral part of the process of reusing the seeds, which is an integral part of cheap(er), more traditional methods of farming. It seems to me like in addition to trying to conduct infringement reduction with a cricket bat instead of a scalpel, they're trying to eliminate the ability for farmers to farm in the way they had for generations and to force them to purchase the GMO seeds by making parts of the process-flow the smaller farmers use illegal. Not to be too gloom and doom but this is pretty gloom and doom. Do we really want these corporations (Monsanto, Dow and their ilk) who obviously do not have our best interest in mind to have almost complete control of the supply of our food staples? I sure don't.

this is not at all like blaming bittorrent sites for pirating

look, you don't understand what this seed cleaner was doing. monsanto does not go around suing every seed cleaner in the midwest just because they could be cleaning roundup ready seeds. they sued moe parr, and they did so because he told other farmers that it was legal for them to clean their roundup ready seeds (which it is not).

evidence: http://www.fr.com/files/uploads/publications/DSU-Medical-Cor...

I'm curious why it would be illegal to remove debris from seeds (or does "clean" mean something else in this context?). What is Monsanto mixing with their Roundup-ready seeds that they so desperately want to get planted along with the crop?

cleaning is how you transform this years crops into next year's seeds. one of the agreements you sign when you buy roundup-ready seeds is that you don't clean seeds.

basically, by seed cleaning, you don't have to buy more roundup ready seeds.

look, if you think a news article quoting Moe Parr about someone suing him is convincing evidence, i'm not really sure if you'll believe this, but here's some evidence indicating that Moe Parr is in the wrong:

this is the court injunction against Moe Parr's seed cleaning activities: http://www.fr.com/files/uploads/publications/DSU-Medical-Cor...

i hope your mind isn't already made up

I don't necessarily agree with your stance because you still haven't materialized official court cases dealing with this issue.

I would like to see a case where Monsanto was sued for seed contamination and the farmer won the case.

Why is them winning important?

EDIT: Sorry, read that as "where Monsanto sued and won the case" I expect you won't find many cases where Monsanto was sued and lost, since they would be extremely inclined to settle and it would be hard for a farmer to turn down the sort of money that Monsanto has available to it.

I think winning is considered important because of the mistaken presumption that this has some bearing on how Monsanto is conducting itself or the guilt or innocence of the farmers involved. The unfortunate truth is that Monsanto will probably never lose such a case, they will settle or drop a case that they think they have any chance of losing. The legal system in most of the world is such that just threats and intimidation is enough to "win" because of the costs and damage just having a suit drag on will bring a favourable result for Monsanto.

These are not two equally equipped sides engaging in a fair judicial process to settle a contract dispute, pretending that it is such a circumstance is overwhelmingly unfair to the farmers involved.

Ok, then a good starting point would be citations of cases that Monsanto brought against farmers and then dropped. You'd think farmers would make a lot of noise about those, but either way, those cases should be discoverable.

Monstanto's own website says they have sued 145 times and only gone to trial 11 times. In the past I know they have indicated that they have settled more than 500 cases out of court but I can not find a good citation for that.

I personally believe that Monsanto is probably correct in most of their accusations against farmers but the imbalance of power that exists between the two parties means that Monsanto does have something of a free hand to do as it likes regardless of whether it is in the right or not. I am not from the United States but given what I know of the structure of the business down there if you can't use any of their products you will have a lot of difficulty continuing to earn a livelihood as a conventional farmer.

Well, it makes sense. A suit just means you claimed something; winning means you were right in somebody's eyes.

it sets a legal precedent. This is why companies love to settle out of court and to not admit any wrong doings. This is how finance companies are investigated by the SEC, pays a settlement, declares nothing wrong was done and continues on with the practice that got them investigated in the first place.

Because if Monsanto wins then the farmer is guilty, and I'm not interested in condemning Monsanto for suing in cases where they've actually been legally wronged.

(If you wanna debate whether the law should be different then that's another argument.)

Perhaps it would be a good idea to disclose that you work for George Church's lab, and that George Church is a Monsanto Life Sciences Research Fellow.

Oh yes, obvious conflict and I should have disclosed this major point. I didn't even know it, but that does not excuse me. George Church was an LSRF fellow (independent non-profit fellowship), which are named after the donation company. Thus George was sponsored indirectly by Monsanto in 1984 for working as a post-doc in Gail Martin's lab working on embryogenesis and development. http://www.lsrf.org/alumni/alumni84.htm

I was 5 years old.

Obvious conflict. Sorry for not disclosing.

Thanks to the work of an anonymous user researching who you work for at Harvard, you have been revealed to work at a lab which receives funding from Monsanto. I'm not saying this discredits you, but you should state this up front.

I have sympathy for geneticists who have to deal with the anti-GM knee jerk reactionaries, but Monsanto tramples on constitutional rights of small farmers who don't have the legal resources to defend themselves. The fact that many of these farmers are guilty of stealing IP doesn't change this fact.

To my knowledge, we don't receive funding from Monsanto, nor do we do much plant research that I know of. It's a big lab.

To be a bit more accurate, Schmeiser's Canola field was contaminated by his neighbour's plants. Schmeiser saved the seed and mixed it with his own hybrid, so his own plants inherited the Roundup Ready gene from the contaminated seed.

This is his claim. It doesn't make much sense. Why would he spray his entire crop with roundup? Even if it were true, he still knowingly was getting RoundUp Ready seeds to avoid paying Monsanto. That's somewhat like saying: "I found this copy of adobe photoshop on this used computer.. I copied it and sold it; since i didn't originally purchase it, I'm not responsible."

A quote from the Canadian Supreme Court: "Mr. Schmeiser complained that the original plants came onto his land without his intervention. However, he did not at all explain why he sprayed Roundup to isolate the Roundup Ready plants he found on his land; why he then harvested the plants and segregated the seeds, saved them, and kept them for seed; why he planted them; and why, through his husbandry, he ended up with 1,030 acres of Roundup Ready canola which would have cost him $15,000."

If your bulls raid my pasture and attack and rape my cows, I might shoot them and even have a barbecue. There's no reason I can't raise the calves as my own.

Who cares what Schmeiser did to the plants GROWING ON HIS OWN LAND? Why must he explain his reasons to anyone for dealing with a predatory invader?

I think a better analogy might be a beneficial computer virus.

Let's say you write a virus that uses patented technology to remove malware, defragment the drives, reorganize the registry and whatever else a Windows machine needs to run well these days. It infects some of my company's computers, and I notice that they're running well. I direct the IT department to wipe all machines that aren't running well, and leave the ones that are alone.

Can you now sue me for royalties?

What you should have invented is a anti virus whose distribution you can control. Not a virus that removes a malware. The point behind a virus is a technology difficult to control. Now you invent a beneficial technology extremely difficult to control and which spreads. And then you express surprise when it actually spread?

Honey bees or in general bees are used by nature for cross pollination. If bees are spreading your technology then really its not the farmer that you can blame here. Those bees can fly anywhere. This can spread to a jungle and suddenly you might be faced with a scenario of this thing having spread beyond uncontrollable means. Whom will you sue then?

That's a good argument against the patentability of genetically modified plants, but not against the validity of the case given that GM plants currently ARE patentable.

And here is the problem. If i dust your crops with my patented pollen, you are now in violation of my IP rights. How does that make any sense?

Their argument seems to be that I have to make an effort to isolate the descendants of your strain to be in violation of your IP rights. They're not talking about the situation where I let your strain mingle with mine and take no other action.

Define "make an effort." This gray area is an automatic settle out of court auto-win button.

If i'm a good farmer, wouldn't i be trying to isolate the best crops from my fields? And isn't there a high chance that the best ones were the genetically modified ones?

I think if they are going to claim IP rights over the natural reproductive system of these plants, that they should be able to be sued for massive damages when they knowingly "pollute" other people's crops with their genes. Property rights goes in both directions. Fine, it's your property -- why are you polluting all of my crops?

Who cares what Schmeiser did to the plants GROWING ON HIS OWN LAND? Why must he explain his reasons to anyone for dealing with a predatory invader?

Analogy: someone accidentally drops a backpack containing DVDs in my front yard. Am I now licensed to make and sell copies of the content on those DVDs?

Anyway, your argument is with the Canadian Supreme Court, not with Monsanto.

That's a deliberately flawed analogy. You don't copy the DVDs. The DVDs copy themselves, using your land and resources to do so.

This is more like somebody "accidentally" setting up a DVD pressing factory on your property. You quietly let the factory owner continue pressing DVDs (using your electricity no less) and sell the DVDs yourself when they're ready. It's all on your property, the factory owner is trespassing and I don't see how the factory owner can claim a right to the pressed DVDs. (Don't build automated self-reproducing things that you want to claim patents on, even when they're stealing other people's resources.)

I'm not so sure why people are trying to make analogies between copyright law pertaining to software and patent law pertaining to genetic material. All of these analogies seem so strained that they lose all their power.

OK, I can make it a patent analogy if you like:

A plane crashes on your land. You reverse-engineer the jet engine and start selling your own jet engines.


How about this (with thanks to another HNer):

You patent a specially engineered cow to taste good with your specially engineered steak sauce. One day your specially engineered steers jump my fence and rape my cows. Upon realizing this, I begin buying your special steak sauce from you and eating my new cows with it.

When your analogy is not about "patent law pertaining to genetic material", you wash out the absurdity.

Steers, per se, lack the (ahem, equipment) capacity to impregnate cows. I think you mean your bull jumps my fence.

Also I believe it could be argued that a specially engineered bull would rise to the level of a "dangerous animal" (such as keeping an elephant or a lion) for purposes of trespass and liability. The owner of a genetically engineered, patent-encumbered, bull would know and have prior knowledge about the unique danger involved in having such an animal escape and be held especially liable.

Fair points. Specially engineered bulls on open range then.

The difference is that DVDs do not make copies of themselves. Schmeiser simply used the seeds that ended up on his land (as far as I know, I don't know all the details of the case). Wouldn't the analogy then be, should you be able to watch the DVDs that ended up in your front yard?

>Schmeiser simply used the seeds that ended up on his land (as far as I know, I don't know all the details of the case).

It only takes a few minutes to find out the details of the case. He didn't just accidentally get some Monsanto seeds mixed in with his own -- instead, he noticed some Roundup-resistant plants growing on his land, collected seeds from them, planted them in a test field, and then separated the Roundup-resistant from the non-Roundup-resistant strains by... well, spraying 'em with Roundup. In other words, he went to some effort to deliberately separate and reproduce the specific Roundup-resistant strain which happened to wind up on his land.

I don't see how that's different from what I'm saying. The seeds did accidentally get mixed into his own. Whatever steps he took afterwards to isolate them, plant them, etc. is just using the seeds.

You might want to read the actual findings, they put patent law above rights of property holder. Not knowing might have mitigated the damages, but it would have not stopped the lawsuit.

Of course they did, the whole point of patent law is that it restricts what you can do with your own property. I think it would be nice if ignorance was an excuse in patent cases, but the fact that it isn't is a big part of why our current patent system is so toxic in general, especially in software.

I think the idea that someone can pollute your property and then charge you for it is a grievous violation of property rights. It is not the patent I object to, it is the idea that a polluter can "corrupt" my crop and then charge me for it.

I also think the idea that you can sue someone just for seeds that blew in is absurd. But as far as I can tell, that hasn't happened. In each case where someone was sued by Monsanto they were alleged to have deliberately tried to save only the GM seeds. And of course they denied it and said that it wasn't deliberate, but what they were charged with was deliberate patent violation.

Yes, they're bad guys. But reading it quickly I didn't see any cases of them suing people for having had their fields accidentally contaminated. Its possible for a person or company to be bad without being guilty of every bad thing anyone says about them.

The original case you dismiss (Schmeiser) is acknowledged by both sides that the field was contaminated by passing trucks. Both he and the company have said he bought no seed from Monsanto. The court ruling said it didn't matter what he did after that (knowingly or unknowingly) since he was a person who reused seed which is how it has been done forever until Monsanto.

The reason they are after all the record on page 2 of the article is they are taking anyone who had seed cleaning done - even if they are not their customers. Its real easy to prove their seed mixed since even Monsanto admits that pollen-flow is inevitable (Monsanto's 2005 Technology Agreement).

Google Tom Wiley who is a ND farmer. He has some interesting experiences in the contamination area.

Another interesting batch of comments. Generally a lot of hating on Monsanto (which is exploiting the fact that genes can be patented).

This "story" is part of a bigger conversation going on. The outcome of which is very much up in the air.

The conversation we're having is "Should it be allowed for individuals, or companies, to patent genetic sequences?"

On the 'for' side we have people like Monsanto who make the claim they invest billions of dollars in creating 'products' that would not occur naturally in a reasonable amount of time, and having made that investment they deserve the limited monopoly granted by the patent system. We also have testing companies who have invested billions in diagnostic tests to identify diseases which are tied to certain genes and they too feel it is right and proper to give them protection so that they might re-coup those costs. In both their cases their argument is that it is for the greater good of the society that these temporary monopolies are granted, to encourage the investment needed to come up with these inventions which will permanently be a benefit going forward.

We also have groups of people who are arguing that this is an abuse of the patent monopoly because the processes are not 'man made' they are simply natural processes that have been tuned by man to create a desired result. Generally folks recognize the benefit, but they don't wish to pay the fees.

Consistently, the courts have sided with the folks who did the investment because, as the Canadian supreme court pointed out, the people see the benefit too so the argument that its good for society is a well supported.

The monkey wrench of course is the question of innovation flexibility. In both the patent and copyright systems there is an implied flexibility rule, which is that if "you" the non-inventor/creator don't like it, you are free to create your own version with your own resources. So if you don't like the patent on the automobile you are free to construct your own vehicle that has the same function of transportation, but doesn't infringe on the claims. This breaks down when their is not flexibility and that was very clearly elucidated by Judge Alsup in the Oracle vs Google case where he held that the APIs, which were constrained to be written in a specific way (no flexibility), could not be copyrighted, because doing so was contrary to copyright law, where he wrote "copyright law does not confer ownership over any and all ways to implement a function or specification." And there is a similar argument to be made against genetic patents. One cannot simply create 'another' way to make plants resistant to a particular herbicide, because that particular herbicide attacks particular plant functions which are expressed by specific genes. So there is no 'wiggle' room around other people wanting to create the same capability without infringing the patent.

I expect it is this questions, "What are the considerations of the economic good or harm in locking out others from using a particular 'law of nature or natural process'?" Clearly there is an economic good in being able to farm efficiently, there is a harm in that even if you were a grade a geneticist you couldn't get around using the same genes Monsanto did so there is no avenue to compete. There are only alternatives, like weeding the old fashioned way.

If you're wondering, farmers have one of the strongest voices in our government. This is because there are a lot of states that have farmers in them (so there are a lot of representatives from farm districts). They have literally changed the course of rivers to take water from urban users and water their fields, they have been paid not to plant crops, their crop prices have been subsidized to insure they make a living, and their excess product has been bought up with the tax payer's money and distributed for free. So it isn't like Monsanto is the gorilla here.

I don't think the original article added a lot to the conversation sadly. I would love to see additional analysis and alternatives being discussed.

"herbicide attacks particular plant functions which are expressed by specific genes. So there is no 'wiggle' room around other people wanting to create the same capability without infringing the patent."

I don't think that's true, immediately I'm thinking of enzymes that could cleave the herbicide, or making plants resistant to a different herbicide.

Monsanto is primarily a maker of herbicides not GM crops, GM crops are a compliment to it's business and Monsanto designs plants to work well with their products. If you want to use a different herbicide and a different gene sequence you're completely welcome to, what your not allowed to do is use a specific genes that confer resistance to monsanto's own products.

I think the parallel development of eyes in many species proves that nature is rather flexible in how solutions can be implemented.

It's completely possible to make herbicide resistant plants with out infringing on Monsanto's IP. It just might be a little more difficult to make one for RoundUp.

Also, the Roundup Ready soybeans patent is due to expire in 2014, so in 2 years farmers all around the world get Roundup Ready soybeans for free, just as the patent system intended. By the time this gets infront of a judge the farmers could go plant all the patented crop they want.

Monsanto makes a tidy profit on the development, farmers eventually get the seed for free, Monsanto sells lots of roundup, which pollute the environment less than other herbicides, win, win, win.

> Also, the Roundup Ready soybeans patent is due to expire in 2014, so in 2 years farmers all around the world get Roundup Ready soybeans for free, just as the patent system intended.

Unless Monsanto suddenly stops selling Roundup and instead sells a different, "new and improved" herbicide with a new set of recently-patented resistent seeds. And lobbies for governments to ban Roundup because of a recently study saying it's a threat to the environment after all.

At least that's how it tends to work in the pharmaceutics industry.

Glyphosate's ("Roundup") patent expired in 2000.

This isn't really like the software industry, where there's lock-in effects. Unless you screw up, glyphosate still kills plants.

Thus the "And lobbies for governments to ban Roundup because of a recently study saying it's a threat to the environment after all." part.

Came here to make a similar point: not only could you make a plant that produces enzymes that cleave the herbicide, you could make a plant that expresses efflux pumps that pump the herbicide out of the cells, making the plant immune as well. This mechanism is used by cancer tumors and bacteria to resist all the crap we throw at them trying to kill them. I suspect there are a multitude of ways to make Round-up resistant crops.

An excellent point. That would certainly be a point in Monsanto's favor. I am not sure I could say the same about the BRCA1 gene for breast cancer diagnosis though. That too is patented. Which reinforces for me how complex this issue is. We often discuss software patents (and as "practitioner of the art" :-) I can relate.) but I am not a biologist, much less a geneticist.

Yeah there are definitely points on each side. I wonder too how difficult this stuff is to skilled people, I wonder if there is a biohacker news where people laugh about the triviality of making something resistant to round up, like the triviality of 1 click purchasing.

I wish there was a biohacker news. While the idea is pretty trivial. Showing that it worked, getting it into plants and getting it to work well, and then getting the products through the pretty significant regulatory hurdles is not trivial.

Is it the farmers who have a powerful lobby, or the food processors, such as Monstanto and ADM?

That question sheds light on many contemporary issues

"On May 10, the Summer Olympics were inaugurated at the Greek birthplace of the ancient games. A few days before, virtually unnoticed, the government of Vietnam addressed a letter to the International Olympic Committee expressing the "profound concerns of the Government and people of Viet Nam about the decision of IOC to accept the Dow Chemical Company as a global partner sponsoring the Olympic Movement."

Dow provided the chemicals that Washington used from 1961 onward to destroy crops and forests in South Vietnam, drenching the country with Agent Orange.

These poisons contain dioxin, one of the most lethal carcinogens known, affecting millions of Vietnamese and many U.S. soldiers. To this day in Vietnam, aborted fetuses and deformed infants are very likely the effects of these crimes - though, in light of Washington's refusal to investigate, we have only the studies of Vietnamese scientists and independent analysts.

Joining the Vietnamese appeal against Dow are the government of India, the Indian Olympic Association, and the survivors of the horrendous 1984 Bhopal gas leak, one of history's worst industrial disasters, which killed thousands and injured more than half a million.

Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for the disaster, was taken over by Dow, for whom the matter is of no slight concern. In February, Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation for the victims and prosecution of those responsible."

America's Rank Hypocrisy, By Noam Chomsky, AlterNet 05 June 12

Wikileaks revealed that Dow hired the U.S. private investigative agency Stratfor to monitor activists seeking compensation

This is the kind of inflammatory reporting that creates divisiveness rather than informing people.

I don't doubt that Dow hired Stratfor. But isn't that exactly what a responsible corporation ought to do? Knowing that they've got some potential exposure to huge legal losses, they owe it to their stockholders (and are probably required by the SEC) to keep an eye open for the degree and size of that risk.

There is no reason to read that as anything more than responsible, prudent business. We can see that the "reporter" is prone to think of this in one way, but we might just as well assume that they're keeping tabs on things in order to find ways to satisfy those affected without exposing themselves to huge liabilities.

In my opinion, Chomsky and Krugman both ought to turn in their writing tools, and go back to the scientific pursuits that they're proven to be great at. (to be fair, there are hacks all across the political spectrum, but for some reason it seems that many people believe that these people, perhaps because of their excellent -- but unrelated -- scientific credentials, are above being manipulative)

I don't understand your objection. Are you complaining that mentioning that Dow hired a private intelligence agency to monitor people expressing grievances makes Dow sound evil because most corporations would (or even should if they are "responsible") do the same, so it's not a particularly evil act amongst corporations?

Yes. If you knew someone was trying to bring a legal case against you, wouldn't you research them and keep an eye on them? It would be irresponsible not to.

But you can see how people (non-corporate persons) might think that sort of extra-judicial asymmetry in dealing with questions of injury between individuals and corporations highly detrimental to any idea of regulating anything that a company wants to do to anyone, right?

Krugman's science is economics. Economics is pretty much the pinnacle of politics intersecting with science. His view on the science is that the Keynesian model is correct, and he sees an entire political party which has embraced the Austrian model which most economists disagree with. This is why he writes passionately in support of government spending during times of recession/depression. He argues, correctly in my opinion, that we are in a depression due to a collective debt paydown period, which is actually a healthy activity by itself, but in a collective form can wreak havoc on an economy.

I don't disagree with the essentials of what you said, and in fact Krugman himself sits pretty near the peak of economics, but...

1. Krugman-cum-commentator occasionally contradicts Krugman-cum-economist. For example, [1]

2. Krugman falls into the same trap as most economic commentators, in assuming that one side of the Keynes/Hayek divide has been proven right (which side depends on the commentator in question), refusing to acknowledge the lack of predictive success that the entire spectrum of macroeconomics suffers from. The truth of the matter is that neither side should consider the debate won, since both haven't achieved the scientific holy grail: to be able to reliably predict what will happen, given the inputs. And since this is the case, they ought to be a little more humble in their assertions.

3. The role of economics is to help us understand choices. It cannot tell us what choices are correct, only how they compare. Making policy requires that we overlay some value system to weigh those choices. Yet Krugman (and others) continue to overlook this part of it, and simply assuming the values, acting as if policy follows directly.

4. It's false that the GOP has embraced the Austrian model. Both the GOP and DEM are corporatist, and love regulation -- just of somewhat different sorts. Despite their rhetoric, except at the fringes, the GOP does not actually follow Austrian, Chicago, or any free-market ideology.

[1] http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2012/01/kru...

EDIT: full disclosure: I'm frequently guilty of #2 myself.

EDIT 2: change "frequently" to "occasionally"; don't want to be too hyperbolic.

"The truth of the matter is that neither side should "consider the debate won, since both haven't achieved the scientific holy grail: to be able to reliably predict what will happen, given the inputs."

There isn't a science that can make reliable predictions if the model relies on inputs consisting of even a tiny bit of human decision making, and economics is completely controlled by human decision making.

What on earth does this have to do with the original post? I don't think propaganda from Noam Chomsky has any place on HN. I don't agree with a single sentence. The original post seemed very biased in an anti-business way, and this is even worse.

Dow made Agent Orange at the request of the US military decades ago. Are they supposed to be considered evil because of that? Union Carbide clearly screwed up in a huge way over Bhopal, but they settled with the Indian government, and tied up all liability before they were acquired. If you disagree with me, take it somewhere besides HN.

Disclosure: I grew up in Midland, MI, headquarters of Dow, and much of my family worked there.

>>Union Carbide clearly screwed up in a huge way over Bhopal, but they settled with the Indian government, and tied up all liability before they were acquired. If you disagree with me, take it somewhere besides HN.

I am from India. Union Carbide, now Dow didn't settle or tied up liability as you mentioned. They lobbied hard both domestically and internationally to run from here by paying least they could. Without the least regard to the victims.

>>Disclosure: I grew up in Midland, MI, headquarters of Dow, and much of my family worked there.

I don't know if you are biased here.

But if you kill people in thousands and injure a generation of millions of people. Then you need to account for something and have some responsiblity.

What Dow did isn't not compensating a factory plant worker who lost his hand. But systematically, with plans and full intentions refused/and refusing to accept responsibilities for their actions that killed several thousands and destroyed lives of millions of people in India.

If this is not wrong, I don't what is.

And I don't know how people involved with this see themselves in the mirror, sleep in the night or live with this on their conscious.

This was almost like a genocide, and victims denied reparations.

I agree that this isn't directly related to the OP, but:

> Dow made Agent Orange at the request of the US military decades ago. Are they supposed to be considered evil because of that?

If you observe how even passing information to the gov't is condemned on HN, this almost seems like a rhethorical question.

[Edit: parent said he felt Dow was unethical, and then edited it to the statement above. That's what I was responding to.]

I agree completely that businesses must act in an ethical way. However, I don't feel that Dow was unethical. The wiki pages on this are very one sided, making it appear an open and shut case. Dow disagrees, and I've heard that from toxicologists that I knew and respected personally.

To quote from http://www.dow.com/sustainability/debates/agentorange/


Agent Orange

The jungles of South Vietnam were ideally suited for providing enemy cover for the guerilla tactics employed by troops battling South Vietnamese, American, and other allied forces during the Vietnam War. To offset ambush attacks and protect allied forces, the U.S. military sought to defoliate combat areas by developing and using the herbicide Agent Orange. U.S. military research developed Agent Orange, and the product was formulated based on exacting military specifications.

Companies supplying Agent Orange to the government included The Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto Company, Hercules Inc., Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Company, Uniroyal Inc., Thompson Chemical and T-H Agriculture and Nutrition Company.

Public concern over Agent Orange has centered not over the product itself, but an unavoidable by-product that was present in only trace levels of one of the product's ingredients. The unavoidable trace by-product was the dioxin compound 2,3,7,8-TCDD.

Dow's Position

As a nation at war, the U.S. government compelled a number of companies to produce Agent Orange under the Defense Production Act. The government specified how it would be produced and controlled its use.

The scientific investigation on Agent Orange has gone on since the Vietnam War and continues today. There have been extensive epidemiological studies of those veterans most exposed to Agent Orange. Today, the scientific consensus is that when the collective human evidence is reviewed, it doesn't show that Agent Orange caused veteran's illnesses.


You are of course free to disagree with me, and Dow. However, this is such a political topic it boggles my mind we are discussing this on Hacker News. So how do you feel about Mitt Romney's chances, while we're at it?

This article's discussion is a rollercoaster ride of unrelated topics.

But whether something is ethical just because the government compelled you to do it is a pretty general question. Dow's position about it seems pretty clear, especially since they only make statements about American veterans. I just wanted to point out that many people do not intuitively feel that way at all.

So Vietnam is opposed to a company sponsoring the Olympics because they made a product that the USA used to deform and kill their people. How does that make sense? Shouldn't they be angry at the country that actually dumped the chemicals on them? If somebody gets a gun and shoots you, you sue the guy who shot you, not the company that made the bullets. (Well, unless you just want more money, which in our litigious society might actually work for you...)

It might make a bit more sense when you add in that Agent Orange wasn't supposed to cause these effects in humans. Dow and Monstanto were struggling to keep up with the demand from the US military and quality control suffered. This led to Agent Orange being contaminated with TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin). True Agent Orange should be 50/50 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. It was the contamination with the carcinogen that caused the disaster.

With this in mind, you could blame Dow and Monsanto for lack of quality control leading to human suffering. This would be a litigious offense in almost every nation. Even if you want to believe malice put the poison there rather than incompetence, guns aren't made or sold with specific intent to kill people. If they were (outside of war), you would be able to sue for the damage they caused.

guns aren't made or sold with specific intent to kill people.

So handguns and machine guns are manufactured for deer hunters?

You know, i've always wondered why some targets for target practice show a humanoid form... y'know, if people aren't practicing to shoot other people. Maybe they were trying to paint a deer and got confused.

Avid shooter here. Yes, those humanoid targets are made for practicing the shooting of humans. That should not be controversial. Some humans are a threat and occasionally it is required that you shoot them.

Shooting innocent humans is bad.

Zombies are roughly the same form too.

And with all the face-eating "bath salts" zombie stories in the news, practicing your marksmanship has never been more important.

Machine guns are designed for military use, which I called out as an exception (because the military is generally not legally liable when they use their weaponry). I would be interesting in seeing some statistics on how people use their handguns. Many I know use them for recreational shooting, but store them for use in emergency. Many carry them on their person with the claim that it is for personal defense. I've only personally known one friend who had a chance to use his handgun in self defense, and he was too scared to draw so he just handed over his wallet. Many times a handgun is simply a deterrent, not meant to be fired.

Anecdotes aside, deer hunting is not the only form of hunting. Boar hunting with pistols is common. Small game hunting with .22 pistols is common. Deer hunting with long barrel .44s and .45s is not unheard of, though not necessarily legal in every state. Handguns aren't something I personally agree with very strongly, though. I don't like easily concealable weapons.

I own a handgun, given to me as a hand-me-down, that was originally used for small game hunting.

This is reeeeeeeally missing the point. The conversation was about (apparently) the ethics of selling a product which is known to be used a majority of the time for the aim of killing a thing (whether that be deer or human, is up to the owner of the gun/bullet). This should not be a controversial statement.

Before someone says "oh but you can use it for target shooting and/or sport!", there is nothing about the function of a gun and bullet which suggests it is intended for (for example) target shooting, since you don't need something as incredibly powerful as your average gun or bullet to shoot a target. Not to mention the wide variety and increase of both power and rate of fire of different weapons... these things are designed for war, basically. An AK-47 is an incredibly reliable and impressive weapon, and unless you are the worst hunter in the entire world, would never need such a weapon for hunting. It's like a bow and arrow with a grenade on the end.

And let me go even further: bows and arrows are intended to kill things as well. It's harder to kill something with it, but that's what they were invented for, and that's what you're practicing for on the range. But I don't hear many people screaming about boycotting bow and arrow manufacturers/salespeople. The fact that it takes skill to kill with one killing instrument while a child can kill with another, does not take away from their intended purpose, nor the fact that the market for the thing is why they exist to begin with.

Peter and the sibling comment to this one seem to be ill-informed about firearms.

unless you are the worst hunter in the entire world, would never need such a weapon for hunting. It's like a bow and arrow with a grenade on the end.

This is false. An AK-47 shoots 7.62x39 cartridges, similar to .308 Winchester, which is a very common load for deer hunting. I own an SKS, which was the predecessor to the AK, and shoots the same ammo. It's very cheap, and like the AK is very reliable. This, plus some quirks of US gun control laws, have made this a very popular hunting rifle.

The sibling comment said

I know a guy who hunts with an AR-15. Is that necessary in any way?

Actually, he's got it completely backwards. The loads used in an AR-15 are too weak to use in deer hunting, unless you're a damned good shot. It's a 5.56mm bullet -- essentially a .22 caliber bullet, but with a bunch more velocity to it. This standard NATO round was designed (or maybe later rationalized?) with two important features: (1) it's smaller and lighter, allowing a soldier to carry more of them; and (2) it generally does not kill its human target (and understand that deer are tougher than humans in this regard), and thus ties up not just the enemy's wounded, but also medical resources in caring for the wounded.

The bottom line is that deer, and even more so, bears, elk, moose, etc., are really tough prey. It takes a lot more to take down one of them than it does to incapacitate a human enemy. Thus you need greater kinetic energy from your ammunition when hunting them.

This, of course, says nothing about rate of fire. Semi-auto is very helpful to a hunter. However, full auto is not useful. But then again, it's not very useful to most soldiers, either. That's why the later NATO assault rifles -- M16A2 -- no longer feature full auto. They're selectable to single shot, or three-round bursts.

EDIT, clarification: actually, saying that it takes more kinetic energy for large game is only part of the picture. The real key is energy transferred to the target. So a solid bullet that passes through the target does less harm than a bullet that fragments and gets caught up in the target, thus imparting all of its energy into the target.

Hey, another SKS hunter! Besides a 30.06, that's hands down the best hunting rifle I've ever used. It doesn't have the range or stopping power of a 30.06, but it's so much more reliable. If you need to get two or three shots out (depending on how many licenses you have) at a herd of deer... the SKS has never let me down when it comes to dropping my limit in a single morning. I've had the 30.06 jam up far too often.

Back at the handgun comment further up the discussion, my grandpa used to carry a .22 pistol with him hunting in case the deer was wounded but not dead. I don't care much for pistols though.

What I was saying about the AK-47 is that it's overkill in terms of weapons designed for hunting deer. The AK is designed to work in the sand after being left in the desert for a year and shoot practically like new. The clip is (imho) overkill - you really need more than 5 rounds to take down a single buck? And like you mentioned, full-automatic is dumb for hunting (thought I might appreciate it if I suddenly discovered a grizzly in my tent at 3am).

I'm no great hunter, but an assault rifle is IMHO not best suited for hunting game. Effective stopping power is important, but so is picking the right tool for the job.

you really need more than 5 rounds to take down a single buck?

I have an SKS with 5 rounds in it. I don't need 5 to take down one, but it's not uncommon to fire two or three shots at once. It's nice to know that if you do that, there's still two or three left if the herd swings back around.

Other than that, 5 rounds is the smallest magazine they make. Bolt-action is a great detriment when it comes to hunting.

Like in my original comment, i'm talking about the AK, not the SKS. I think more than 5 rounds in a clip is overkill for this application. Five is a fine number for the SKS. I can see using an SKS for hunting, but an AK-47? "LOOK OUT, ITS BAMBIE! FLIP IT TO FULL AUTO, CLETUS!" And really, I believe if you're going to use something like a gun which has a huge advantage over every other traditional human-vs-mammal hunting tool, you should be using bolt action at the very least. Be sportsmanlike, don't go for that semi-auto crap (which I used to use).

(p.s. you can use up to 10 rounds in an SKS with a stripper clip, but i'll assume nobody would do that for hunting)

I don't disagree with the intent of your comment, but I think you are arguing your point in a poor fashion. Even if guns were only ever used for target practice, you would still see excessively designed guns. Just like, and for the same reasons as, you see excessively designed cars; people find them fun.

I know a guy who hunts with an AR-15. Is that necessary in any way? No, I don't expect so. He seems to enjoy it though.

Are you suggesting that people who design and manufacture biological or chemical weapons have zero responsibility for how they are used? Bullet's at least have the potential to be used harmlessly, something like VX gas does not. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VX_(nerve_agent)

It's more like someone selling a case of bullets while knowing that the buyer will use it to kill someone. I can't say if it's legal or not, but it's certainly not very ethical.

This has got to be the most naive statement i've ever read on the internet.

First of all, it's not illegal to sell arms to your own government's military, and the whole point of the military buying them is to kill people with. (Sorry, "defend our freedom")

Second, products aren't manufactured just for fun. They're made so someone can buy them and use them. The market's demands are the reason the product exists. So if you don't like the product, you have to direct your attentions to the market for the product, not the manufacturers or salespeople. You can get mad at the salesmen all you want - they'll still just collect their big fat paycheck and the market will keep on killing people. Assuming it's the killing and maiming you don't like, I highly recommend you get angry at the USA and not Dow, since the USA is the reason Dow invented and sold chemicals to begin with.

You can call Dow unethical if you want - they don't give a shit. And it is completely meaningless in the context of wanting people to stop getting hurt.

This has got to be the most naive statement i've ever read on the internet.

If so then you are certainly on a different internet. His statement is very valid or logical. He never said DOW was responsible, but they were acted unethically. Someone could write a computer virus that would wipe out the US government dataset for $1B then proceed to say "I was paid for it, I should not go to jail because I did not click START." They would be right, but they would also rank high on the list of most unethical individuals.

It's possible they are pissed at both. Just sayin'.

Maybe I'm thick, but I don't see what Dow has to do with Monsanto or this story?

"[Agent Orange] was manufactured for the U.S. Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical."

And what does THAT have to do with THIS story?

The claims made in this article, Food Inc., and other pieces of agitprop are not based in reality.

I'm part of a fifth generation farm family. We've been working the same ground for over 100 years (that's sustainability in practice) and I'm here to tell you that nobody is killing themselves. Especially with $6 corn. Monsanto is not the enemy of the family farm.

I'll elaborate when I have more time and a device other than my iPad as I know I need to provide more than this here on HN. :)

Nobody is killing themselves because you're being subsidized by the American taxpayer to grow lots of corn.

Monsanto is a nasty corporation, but their nastiness is fueled by government policy that allows them to leverage patents and practices to make a commodity product like corn as profitable to them as pharmaceuticals are to Genentech or AstraZenica.

It's great for you now, and results in cheap food prices for the consumer. But there are dangerous long-term social (ie. lots of obese people fattened up by artificially cheap and ubiquitous corn-derived sugar), biological and economic consequences

The $6 quoted is the current market price (give or take a few cents) for old crop corn, sans subsidies. That is historically high, by a large margin. I think most would consider that to be quite the opposite of cheap.

I will add that as a seventh generation farmer in Canada, where we have no real subsidies, we still grow just as much corn. It is a core part of our crop rotation, and even when it is a money loser, we still pretty much have to grow it at some point – you can get away with not growing it for a rotation or two, but it will catch up with you eventually.

I assume the same is true for Americans in the corn belt. How much of a factor do the subsidies really play in those decisions, or is it just a part of their normal crop rotation (with the added benefit of not having the big losses we often have to deal with here)?

We don't accept subsidies and would absolutely love to see them go away completely. They're doing nothing but sustaining inefficient farming practices and keeping afloat farmers that are quite simply bad at what they do.

I don't want to get too off into the HCFC rabbit trail, but I have yet to see any research that indicates anything other than correlative evidence between the ingestion of C6H1206 derived from corn. If you have access to research that proves causality I'd love to see it.

I don't know that HFCS is "bad" vs. cane sugar. My only dig here is that generally speaking, eating alot of calories makes you gain weight.

The US government decided at one time that lowering the cost of food proportionally would increase overall prosperity by giving consumers more buying power. The unintended side effect of that policy is that heavily sweetened prepared foods are now cheap and ingrained into culture.

Agree 100%. Refined sugars, regardless of the source, are bad for the human organism.

Parent is sweden if I remember correctly. Farm subsiding is a thorny issue in UE and there seems to be some debate in sweden about it http://www.thelocal.se/7443/20070529/

The lawsuit is in Brazil. The claims about people killing themselves are from India. So U.S. corn prices probably don't quite factor in.

Also, if you are importing diesel and fertilizer, you aren't quite self sustaining (I don't mean that in a pejorative sense, I like cheap and available food, but the popular idea of sustainability is about accounting for and balancing flows of energy, not keeping land productive).

I'm using the word sustainable in the dictionary sense of the word rather than in the context in which it has become a rather vaguely defined buzzword.

We've(1) been harvesting crops off of the same ground every year for over 100 years. Thanks to technology the yields from the ground have increased every single year while the adjusted price of grain has dropped over the long term. Yes, we use fertilizer and diesel that are of course brought in from other areas as there is no other way to farm thousands of acres.

People that don't farm don't get how much we care about the land. It's not just some abstract cause temporarily adopted, it's what our father's father's passed to them and what we hope to pass to our sons and daughters. We want to use the smallest possible amount of fuel, fertilizers, and herb/pesticides because that stuff costs a lot of money and farming is a low margin operation (the last couple years notwithstanding). Technologies like Roundup-ready soybeans mean that we take fewer passes with a tractor over the same crop row, reducing the use of herb/pesticides and fuel, and dramatically reducing soil compaction.

(1) I make no income from farming, although I grew up working in the fields. I own a software company and I'm married into the family I'm referencing with the inclusive pronouns.

I do understand that farmers are very motivated to minimize inputs (but many of them are also stubborn and risk averse, because they are just people).

I suppose my point is that you are asking for a fight that I don't think is worth fighting when you use it the way you did (and I see merit to the fuzzy buzzword idea that encourages people to be more mindful of their impacts).

That's sustainable energy sources. Sustainable farming is different.

My reading was that the comment meant "We're still here", not "We are among the best in the world at minimizing inputs".

I meant both. See my response above but minimizing inputs is the core motivation of most of our family's technology and infrastructure investments. GPS integration alone has allowed us to use the minimal amount of fertilizer as we're able to use historical data to know which parts of the field need which amounts of what.

How can you separate the two? Mechanized agriculture requires large amounts of energy, does it not? So if your energy source is unsustainable, your farming method is unsustainable. Seems logical.

Why do everyone keep on insisting that people who hate Monsanto must have watched some movie? Monsanto has bugged the hell out of me for years and I've never even heard of that movie.

Well, the movie was fairly popular, and did raise a lot of awareness for people not directly involved in the farming or GM production dialogues.

That, or because it's easier to dismiss someone's argument by discrediting their words.

Yeah, I was reading articles on Monsanto's practices with GM crops in the '90s and I don't think Food Inc. was out then.

I wonder if the debate over patentability of genes has been reinvigorated by the debate over the patentability of software methods. There's also an interesting parallel in the BitTorrent/media company conflict and the seed cleaner/Monsanto one. Certainly we hear more about software patents than bio ones, but maybe we just need to find and read BioHacker News...

Food Inc is what really whipped up the anti-Monsanto rhetoric; it's uncommon for me to interact with someone about agriculture and food without the film coming up.

Others have taken issue with a 100 year sample size for a definition of "sustainability in practice" but I would not. My family bought its first Diesel tractor quite a bit less than 100 years ago, diskers to seed in the 1950's (I think), 4WD articulating tractors to pull them in the 1970's, and air drills in the 1990's. Started using nitrogen fertilizer instead of manure in the late 1960's. We started using herbicides in the 1970's, insecticides in the 1990's (though never much of them) and fungicides in the 1990's. GMO crops in the 1990's as well. I think we started growing Canola in the late eighties or early 90's and only started growing Soybeans in the last few years.

I am wondering which of the farm practices engaged in right now, in 2012, in any way resemble the "sustaining" of a practice from 100 years ago?

>nobody is killing themselves

Nobody in the US you mean.


Creating a monopoly on something naturally abundant (seed) is a part of Monsanto's long-term vision and a seed monopoly will make them a powerful political force in the world. The power to manage regional population by controlling seed supply has great military value.

A hundred years is a sliver of time compared to how long agriculture has been going on. People live a hundred years and nobody would argue they're "sustainable" in any sense. You might be doing it right. You might be making a total mess of things but it'll take another fifty years before it collapses. Only time will tell.

How dependent are you on fossil fuels? How well would you fare as a farmer if you had no access to chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, or any sort of gasoline powered equipment?

How much would corn cost if the completely insane policy of diverting large amounts of it to ethanol production?

The people that are killing themselves are largely in India where there is an entirely different market.

How much would corn cost if the completely insane policy of diverting large amounts of it to ethanol production?

It may be insane from a purely scientific point of view, but that doesn't tell the whole story. If you recall from around the 2006 timeframe, before the energy policy changes, we were swimming in corn. It was coming out of ears, sitting in massive stock piles doing nothing, and more was coming in each day. Even if you say ethanol is ultimately energy neutral/negative, it was still energy ripe for the taking.

Now the problem, even if you take away the subsidies, is that corn is still an important crop in a grain farmer's rotation. Looking back on the 2006 timeframe again, you might remember the farmers here in Canada losing their shirts over their corn production (we don't have the subsidies). But they still grew it, because there was no reasonable alternative. Not even leaving the fields fallow was an option, as the banks wouldn't hear of it (a loss on corn is smaller than the loss on no crop at all).

I've heard some suggest that farmers grow other crops instead of corn, which sounds good in theory, but those other crops require additional multi-million, even multi-billion, dollar outlay of new equipment and infrastructure to get started. Farmers are already operating on thin enough margins that it is financially impossible. It is cheaper to just take a loss on corn for the year.

It is just not clear to me what the alternative is, especially to maintain sustainable food production of other crops. It is far more complex than just the science of ethanol.

> ... other crops require additional multi-million, even multi-billion, dollar outlay of new equipment and infrastructure to get started.

I think this is the problem with modern agriculture. It shouldn't be like that.

If there's a definition of non-sustainable it's surely spelled out quite clearly right there.

Rule of thumb in the area where my family lives, Hamilton County in Nebraska, is that 1000 acres will be required to financially support a family of four. Land has sold within the last four years from $6K to $10k per acre. Therefore, using the low number, one family will need to be able to raise crops on $6,000,000 worth of land by owning or leasing the ground.

We haven't gotten to equipment yet. Center pivots start at $35K, tractors are about $100K, combines are $250K. We still need heads for the combines for each crop raised, and of course plantering, fertilizing, cultivating, ridging, and discing implements to tend the land. Figure $25K apiece. Add 15% if they're the proper shade of green.

I could keep going, but you get the point, hopefully, that farming is an extremely expensive enterprise with relatively low margins.

"Should" it be that way? With respect, what ag should or should not be isn't irrelevant. It is that way, and this is not a function of ag but rather a function of an industry working to supply demand.

Ag is not remotely unique in the assets that are required to operate. Watch the first season of How It's Made on Netflix and be amazed at how much expensive mechanization and automation is required to make something as simple as a work boot.

This is perhaps what happens when your housing bubble has a knock-on effect on land values and those in turn drive up the cost of doing business for the farmer.

The equipment today is outlandishly expensive. While the equipment is well made, there's surely room for innovation. Just as we can apparently find ways to send things into space for a fraction of the conventional cost, there has to be a way to make a combine harvester, or something functionally equivalent, for less than a quarter million dollars.

If you can find a way to produce equipment that costs what you feel it should then a large market awaits you.

Well, what is the alternative to that? You could replace the expensive machines with human hands, perhaps, but nobody is willing to do the work. Farmers already struggle to find help as it is. With some skill, you can make programmer-like salaries as a farm hand on the right farm right now, and they still can't fill the positions.

Read "Collapse" by Jared Diamond - 100 years is not really proven sustainability yet...

Monsanto: the MAFIAA and patent trolls of agriculture. May the farmers win. And may your amaranth grow and prosper. [0]

[0] http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Monsanto_defeated_by_herbicide_resis...

This article makes some rather terrible claims. I've never heard of readersupportednews.org before. Are there similar articles in well-known, respectable publications?

(Note: I'm not claiming the site is disreputable, I've just never heard of the site and want to read more on sites (on in publications) I know.)

Monsanto: The parable of the sower http://www.economist.com/node/14904184

Here's a link from RT.com (Russia Today): https://rt.com/news/monsanto-brazil-seed-soy-908/

I have no idea if they're trustworthy either, but Wikipedia[1] had this to say about them:

> RT is the second most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, after BBC News and the first most-watched news channel worldwide.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RT_%28TV_network%29

RT is most certainly not the most-watched news channel worldwide. That doesn't even make any sense.

RT is, however, a propaganda tool of Putin and friends. I most certainly wouldn't trust their numbers or anything else they publish for that matter.

Please don't quote anything from RT - it's as useful as quoting Gobbles.

While there is a chance it could be true, the association itself makes anything quoted extremely suspect.

Good to know. I had no idea what it was, but it looked more legit than the OP. Wikipedia seemed to back up the idea that it was a proper source, so I linked it.

I don't think you read far enough in the article :)


It's pretty much a Putin propaganda piece. Don't be mislead by their use of western journalists - they can only parrot the party line or put forward own fringe conspiracy theories.

Pesticide is a leading cause of suicide.


Farming is, in some countries, a high risk occupation for suicide.



I agree that the hyperbole of the article is weird.

»Pesticide is a leading cause of suicide

Pesticides are a leading suicide method, not cause. Come on, it's the title of the article you linked to.

Does hating on Monsanto mean you can jump directly to Monsanto as the cause of the farmer suicides? Does a farmer suicide every 30 minutes sound a little high to anyone else? That would be 48 / day or over 17k / year.

As for the lawsuit, Monsanto sues a farmer because a farmer's land contains some of Monsanto's product. Fine, their product is essentially DNA, but they're allowed to call it their product. Fighting the patent is a losing fight. Right or wrong, it's a battle that won't be won until Kucinich is in the White House.

I've wondered why farmers don't file a counter-claim of trespassing since Monsanto allowed or caused their agents (both the patented DNA and whomever discovered the Monsanto plant) to enter a farmer's property. Additionally, it seems like there would be a case for destruction of property since the genetically modified seeds and plants crowd out the farmer's seeds and plants. Lastly, if the farmers really wanted to hit Monsanto with some irony, they should sue to have Monsanto pay for the removal of the modified seeds and plants. The farmer would have to argue that it is Monsanto's responsibility to prevent the outward spread of their crop. I'm sure the right judge could be found who would draw the comparison to breaking and entering someone's home.

But I'm reminded of a couple simple facts. You don't have to be right to sue someone. You don't have to be in the wrong to get sued. Win or loose, it's not cheap to go to court.

This isn't journalism, it's a piece of agitprop. I'm not just saying this because I think their claims are bullshit, but because the article quotes the lawyer for the farmers, but does not quote a Monsanto spokesman or contain the usual "could not be reached for comment".

Anyone writing an article who thinks they need to only talk to one of the parties in a lawsuit isn't practicing journalism.

I'd rather not see this on HN. Maybe the topic is appropriate (patents), but the article doesn't give any information about that aspect of things.

If anyone's seen "Food, Inc" they also mention the abusive practices of Monsanto of suing anyone that poses a threat to their business model. I don't know much about the space but there may be some interesting patent implications from the lawsuit.

From the article, "The reason? As with many other cases, such as the ones that led certain farming regions to be known as the ‘suicide belt’, Monsanto has been reportedly taxing the farmers to financial shambles with ridiculous royalty charges."

Am I the only one getting this error: "Database Error: Unable to connect to the database:Could not connect to MySQL" ?

I think the traffic from HN crashed their server.

This may be naive, but why isn't the market protecting farmers? Are subsidies involved?

Why don't they just use normal seeds or other seeds? Weren't these limitations known ahead of time? Why did the farmers make a deal with the devil? Why can't they switch back?

It's my understanding Monsanto isn't a company that relies on free markets. They use lawyers heavily. If their seeds blow from a customer's farm to a non customer's farm and the non customer doesn't actively try to remove the Monsanto seeds, they sue. They are like the seed mafia.

"If their seeds blow from a customer's farm to a non customer's farm and the non customer doesn't actively try to remove the Monsanto seeds, they sue"

Got a source for that claim?

There's an article on huffington post which conflicts with the claim: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/monsanto-lawsuit-or...

"The Runyons say they signed no agreements, and if they were contaminated with the genetically modified seed, it blew over from a neighboring farm.

"Pollination occurs, wind drift occurs. There's just no way to keep their products from landing in our fields," David said.

"What Monsanto is doing across the country is often, and according to farmers, trespassing even, on their land, examining their crops and trying to find some of their patented crops," said Andrew Kimbrell, with the Center For Food Safety. "And if they do, they sue those farmers for their entire crop." "


Not sure about the US but it's possible he's referring to Monsanto vs Schmeiser, a Canadian case.


In that case, Schmeiser's field was contaminated by his neighbour's field which was planted with Roundup resistant Canola seed.

"... on the balance of probabilities, the defendants infringed a number of the claims under the plaintiffs’ Canadian patent number 1,313,830 by planting, in 1998, without leave or licence by the plaintiffs, canola fields with seed saved from the 1997 crop which seed was known, or ought to have been known by the defendants to be Roundup tolerant and when tested was found to contain the gene and cells claimed under the plaintiffs’ patent. By selling the seed harvested in 1998 the defendants further infringed the plaintiffs’ patent."

Right, so it's not that they'll sue you if their seeds blow onto your property, it's that they'll sue you if their seeds blow onto your property, you harvest, separate and and save the seeds from the plants that grow, then you plant 'em.

I'm still not sure that counts as infringement, but hey, who am I to disagree with a Canadian court's interpretation of Canadian law?

Just enter "monsanto sues farmer" into your favourite search engine. The wealth of results, mostly partisan in nature however, would suggest that this is a significant issue.

Got a source for that claim?

Who needs a source (or nuanced facts, for that matter) when you've got such an impossibly sticky narrative? True or not, Monsanto will always be known as the people who sued over their seeds.

Which is a shame, because there are plenty of perfectly good reasons to hate Monsanto without delving into half-truths.

Agreed. There's the whole moral question of patenting life.

One thing, that Huffington Post article doesn't quite contradict the claim. It says:

"The court ruling said there was no likelihood that Monsanto would pursue patent-infringement cases against the organic farmers, who have no interest in using the company's patented seed products."

So long as the organic farmers didn't replant the contaminated seed or sell it, they are safe from lawsuits. If a farmer does replant the seed and benefit from the use of weedkiller resistance, they can expect to be sued.

So what are they supposed to do? Sort through the seeds one-by-one? The problem isn't that Monsanto is necessarily asking for anything that is obviously crazy, it's the implementation that causes problems.

It's a lot like software patents in some sense. You can't actually insulate yourself from infringement.

Google is your friend. Here's one of many:


And do they win such claims? Seems to me the farmer whose field was polluted should be able sue for damages instead?

Your average farmer doesn't have the resources required to field a lawsuit against a multi-national company.

Then that seems to be a flaw in the law system. Still, even if they don't start it, why would the company win frivolous claims?

Surely you don't think that frivolous claims are never won?

Not sure, certainly they shouldn't be won as a rule. Maybe there are exceptions, but it shouldn't be just a case of whoever hires the most expensive lawyers wins.

There's a massive gulf between "shouldn't" and "isn't". :/

So basically you are saying the legal system (in the US?) is worthless?

Draw your own conclusions.

"Monsanto won its case against Parr, but the company, which won't comment on specific cases, has stopped its legal action <edit>for PR reasons</edit>against the Runyons."


It's a complicated issue.

Since the government started de-regulating many agricultural practices and allowing for the patenting of organisms, argribusiness intensely lobbies Congress to the point that they control agricultural policy.


Basically, the genetics of modified crops are patented. So if the wind carries corn pollen from your neighbor's farm to your organic cornfield, your crop will pick up some patented genetic characteristics. Then Monsanto's people come and sue you for using their intellectual property.

Monsanto also acts to squelch competition. They purchased companies that make specialized equipment designed to clean and prepare non-hybrid seeds for storage, and shut down manufacturing. They also send people out to buy up old equipment used for seed cleaning, and if you are found have infringed on Monsanto's intellectual property, they'll have the court seize your seed-cleaning equipment.

Can you point to a case where some random pollen got into a neighbor's farm and they got sued. Please read the Schmeiser case before linking to it. It's pretty simple. Monsanto in the past would be tipped off when farmers would buy a lot of roundup without buying roundup ready seeds. It's usually a big tip off that you are using saved seeds, which is explicitly against both the agreements farmers sign, and patent law.

It's a poisonous loop. Initially the yields will be high with seeds of Monsanto because what ever modification done will be effective. This results in depression of prices and farmers have to compete on volume to make decent profits. Since normal seeds can't do that, all farmers are forced to use GM seeds. Once majority of farmers shift to GM seeds, farmers go back to earning the same profit while paying extra for monsanto. And more importantly, if they lose the crop for any reason (very common in India due to droughts/floods), they will go underwater and might even lose their land on which they take loans every year. This leads to suicides. This is exactly what happened with BT cotton which is one of the reasons why Indian govt blocked BT brinjal.

It seems like a hit piece. There's no reference to it in any major publication. I have no idea how this politically-charged website and article got on HN.

I'm not seeing a problem. Check the hyperlinks in the article, they go to more reputable orgs.

Because not enough people have flagged it.

Because, for some time now, "the market" thinks there is more value in patenting agriculture and making money out of it than in helping agriculture.

And "the market" is right. In the short term :)

If GM seeds are so horrible for farming business, our cost of living should skyrocket. Farms which don't use GM seeds should benefit. Plus, the farmers should simply pass the price hike to consumers.

The only way this makes sense to me is either GM seeds are subsidized, or a significant % of farms switched all at once.

Or your "should" statements are too simplistic?

Farmers don't really set the price at which they are selling their production.


Why does anyone make a bad business arrangement? Farmers aren't the first entrepreneurs to misunderstand the limitations placed on them by contract, or to accept those limitations in exchange for fast liquidity.

Monsanto has genetically-modified (and patented) crops that produce 2x or more per acre of land. Sometimes they're the only way to make land profitable.

To me, that sounds like a market problem. I routinely pay more than twice the going rate for standard produce precisely because I recognize the problem cheap produce presents. I'm not suggesting that most people would make the same decision, but then most people aren't aware of the legal battles occurring in the fields where that food was grown.

Eventually, something must give. Either cheap, GMO food will prevail (likely) or it'll fall (unlikely). Either situation will result in much higher food prices, either from more expensive farming methods or from companies like Monsanto being at liberty to extract more from the consumers who now have no alternatives.

Farmers in the United States in particular are mostly in a commodity business and the market for non-GMO products is relatively small so there is not room for all, most, or even a large minority of farms to accept the lower productivity of non-GMO crops for higher prices.

On top of that the situation is still more complex, crop variety research in everything but Wheat and Oats is dominated by private industry so their interest is to ensure that any new varieties fall under the patent protection regime that GMO crops offer because the protections are better than plant-breeders rights. (Also I disagree with the 2x difference posted above but do agree that the divergence has become substantial.)

In addition because the global fertilizer business is effectively a cartel fertilizer prices have nothing to do with the costs of production but instead what the market will bear. (Natural gas is a key element and has been near all-time lows for quite a while but fertilizer prices are relatively high.) So the fertilizer companies are pricing to ensure that you must stay on the highest-productivity path in order to stay above water.

Finally, the vast majority of modern farmers in North America have gone from being cooperative-oriented to more pro-market and largely believe that this current state of affairs is somehow in their best interests -- what is good for agribusiness is good for farmers. It is my humble opinion that the market is totally broken and farmers are very ineffective at working together to counter-balance the powers of the large corporations in the industry.

Because the market isn't rational. Often it will choose cheap over sensible. This is one of those cases. What Monsanto offers is very cheap. It hasn't been demonstrated to be safe by any independent studies and the company itself is a nightmare to work with but it's cheap. Sometimes that trumps all.

Technically, at the start of all this crap, if the property rights of the farmers were respected (your crud got in my field, pay up) then this whole chain of events would have gone quite differently.

I recall reading (can't remember where, I'm afraid) of instances of Monsanto buying up competing seed stocks and destroying them.

Monopoly, in other words.


As to your first argument, I don't think it's quite the same. This is like saying that when I buy a song I can freely resell it. Farmers aren't buying the crops and using it for personal use and giving it to friends for personal use. They are buying it and selling it on the open market.

If I personally went and bought Monsanto seed and used it for my own plants the I ate/gave away and gave it to friends who all used it for personal use, Monsanto would be hard pressed to stop me/they probably wouldn't bother.

Monsanto's lawsuits against farmers are aimed at farmers that did not buy Monsanto seed.

Monsanto says that because their seed and their plants are growing on a farmer's land, that farmer must have stolen the seed and is benefiting from stolen property. So they want a cut of the gain from the stolen property.

The farmers say that pollen goes where the wind blows it and plants and their DNA spread naturally. The farmers say that they did not intend to grow a Monsanto product but because the Monsanto products grow in greater densities and are more robust than naturally growing soy and other crops, the Monsanto products crowd out the farmer's naturally growing products.

I'm not going to enter the Monsanto sues innocent farmers debate like everyone else here, but those who are educated in the subject have known for a very long time that Monsanto are quite protective of their seed patents. People only know of a handful of cases where Monsanto sued, in reality they sued a lot of farmers in the 90's, not just the few high-profile cases people have heard of, most settle and don't fight.

We're talking about a company who basically got where they are today by manufacturing chemical laden plastics, acids and more knowingly Agent Orange which was used in the Vietnam war as a chemical weapon and the artificial sweetener aspartame under the brand name Nutrasweet. I can only think of one good thing Monsanto have done for the public: they were the first company to start mass manufacturing light emitting diodes in the 70s which are now used in everything. But if it weren't Monsanto, someone else would've eventually done the same thing anyway.

I hope these farmers succeed. You shouldn't be able to own a patent on mother nature just because you modified a few cells. What's next: parents having to pay royalty fee's for children born via IVF? When nanotechnology starts being commonly used in vaccinations and medicines are we going to have to pay a licencing fee to keep the vaccine/medicine working? What happens if and when human cloning takes place, is that clone the property of the creator and licensed out to the original the person was cloned from?

This article is wildly emotional and certainly doesn't reflect the situation here in the US. Sure Monsanto and the other seed companies have been driving up the prices of seed. Farmers of course don't like that, but farmers do like the higher yields they get by using those GMO seeds. There are lots of things Monsanto does that might seem "evil", but this article is just ridiculous. Please don't use it as a basis to form your own opinions. You will just sound silly.

I'm going to take Monsanto's side here. The farmers are upset because they are being charged royalties over use of renewal seeds produced from the original 'store bought' seeds.

The argument is over whether the purchase of seeds implies the farmer is financing the 'use' (like a car lease) or the 'ownership' of the seed (like a car purchase).

Monsanto will argue that as the seed's utility is not entirely consumed by it's use (planting) that the most suitable pricing model is to finance the 'use' of the seed, not its ownership. Ergo royalties.

They have an enormously strong point to make here - which is that if ownership were implied by purchase the price would be much higher (as they would need to factor in both the value that future generations of seed provides and cannibalization of future seed demand from renewals).

Which is why the outcome of this case is somewhat moot. If Monsanto is prevented from charging a royalty because of some technicality they would simply charge a much higher upfront price, which they would then allow you to finance (and the farmer will end up being economically indifferent to whether it is called a royalty or not).

Shouldn't Monsanto collect royalties from the plants themselves, which are the ones doing the copyright infringement when they pass their genes along to their offspring?

I don't understand why Monsanto is vilified for enforcing the licensing agreements that farmers willingly enter into when they buy the seed?

When you buy the seed, they tell you straight up that you can't replant. And I'm not a farmer (grew up in farming community), but I don't think this is unique to GMO crops either. I believe the same thing happens for "conventional" hybrid crops from breeding.

Really? We're talking about an article that claims Monsanto is, "responsible for a farmer suicide every 30 minutes?" In the very first sentence!

Sorry, I don't care how relevant or accurate the other information is, but it's not valid after that. Monsanto may or may not be evil, and the farmers may or may not be good, but you certainly can't (shouldn't) form any opinion based on this junk.

One of the farmers around Portland had complained that Monsanto had dispersed a few GM seeds in his farm and later sued him claiming royalties. Of course, he couldn't prove that Monsanto deliberately polluted his field with their seeds and lost the case. If there's a company that I'd like to see burned to the ground, it's Monsanto. Fucking dictators.

About freaking time! Monsanto is EVIL.

5 - million - farmers. I live in Belgium. In Belgium that would mean almost all working people - in all sectors - coming together for a lawsuit targeted at one single company. I'm baffled by the size of this. Or should I not?

Monsanto needs to stop killing people and farms, it's about time that these farmers get their fair share of the injustice they've been put through by Monsanto. Too bad some are already out of business and long gone.

What I don't understand is why these farmers wouldn't switch back to using old crops/seeds if Monsanto is so prohibitively expensive and using old plants is more economical in long term?

Monsanto has highly dubious business practices and a history of very aggressively protecting their intellectual property. For a picture of what's at stake and what has transpired read up on the story of Percy Schmeiser - a farmer who tried to stand up to Monsanto's bullying tactics. There are many articles on his story, but I found http://www.commonground.ca/iss/0401150/percy_schmeiser.shtml to be particularly informative)

I strongly suggest reading "Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi - I think it pretty accurately describes our near future.

And the real winners? The lawyers. Can you imagine making a 40%+ success fee from a $7.7B class action suit?

They tried to patent neem :|

Tried to read this article, hit some kind of NPR style donation paywall... 0/10, wouldn't click.

Nice easy skip button in the top corner.

There is a timeout on this "paywall", just wait for 15 seconds

Or use NoScript: http://noscript.net/

This is definitely an interesting thread, but there seems to be too much focus on Runyon as the bad actor in this case. While I can't say I agree with what Monsanto is doing (the suing and the GM component) I don't think the circumstance is reasonably accounted for...

Using Runyon as an example - even if evidence shows that he took advantage of the situation he was inadvertently involved. The root cause was not of his initiation. Ultimately, in my eyes, it should be the responsibility of Monsanto and it's customers to enforce containment. If that's not possible, then they have a flawed product. Monsanto is well aware of the risk involved in IP within a seed. It's main objective in it's lifecycle is to self-sustain, so unless they can turn that off without a doubt they have to accept the risk.

What I mean: If Monsanto and it's customers can't contain the product they buy and use then there should be no implications for anyone around them to take on that responsibility.

Example (and I know these haven't been going well, so my stab): BP comes knocking on Runyon's neighbor's door. They want to drill in his (the neighbor's) fields, but there is high risk that they may contaminate a shared water table Runyon and the neighbor's land is sitting on. The neighbor decides to go forth - and the inevitable happens. Now - who's fault is it? Runyon's - for being where he is and not instigating (at all) the actions that the neighbor chose to execute? In an argument where the outcome is bad - it's easy to identify the bad actor. In an argument where the outcome is indirectly good there is no incentive for Runyon to sue his neighbor for giving him something that normally should be paid for.

Solution?: Monsanto must place all risk of seed carryover on to it's customers. It is not the anonymous farmers responsibility to fight Monsanto when their competition (the neighbor) has instigated the problem. BUT... Monsanto would never sue their own customers because that is counter-productive; nobody would buy seed from them.

I agree with suing Monsanto. But on the basis that Monsanto and it's customers are operating under a negligent business model which enables them to sue innocent farmers. It almost seems to me that Monsanto is under the assumption that emminent domain applies to it's intellectual property - of which I do not agree.

If the BP spill would have leaked $20 bills instead of oil - you really think there would have been any lawsuits or complaints?

Bottom line: if Runyon didn't intentionally set out to steal Monsanto seeds then he has no responsibility to Monsanto. If you argue that he took advantage of the situation I would argue that is his right and luck. Now if he turns around and directly competes with Monsanto - there may be a case. Otherwise in the land of my personal morals I don't believe Runyon can be held accountable.

Carpe diem.

EDIT: Formatting. And thought... If Monsanto has the genetic research capability to create a product that is resistant to something like RoundUp - why can't it modify the lifecycle of the plant to only grow if some simple additive is sprayed on the newly planted field to "activate" it? Something along the lines of a license key for seeds. That way - if Runyon was caught with plants in an entire field it would showcase theft. It's easier for Monsanto to sue innocent bystanders than put money into R&D of a protection mechanism I would guess... And, yes, I've oversimplified genetic engineering, but again - it's a flawed product if you can't protect it.

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