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Saving conventional, non-GMO seed? Beware!

By David Dechant

(Nov.1, 2001 – CropChoice guest column) – A recent Monsanto newsletter to High Plains growers, the Field Monitor, reminds them to not save seed from RR varieties. That's really no surprise, as almost everyone knows Monsanto has prosecuted over 475 farmers for saving RR seed for their own use and, apparently, some who adamantly claim not having done so.

However, as Monsanto points out, seed saving has become much more than just a GMO issue.

Following is the text of the first paragraph of a brief article in the newsletter called "Making Another Important Choice":

"Saving seed from this year's soybean crop to plant in 2002 is a great temptation. It is especially tempting to save seed from Roundup Ready® varieties because of their popularity and premium performance. But remember, all Roundup Ready varieties are patented, as are STS (DuPont non-GMO variety) and all newer conventional varieties in the seed industry. Legally, no seed from these varieties may be saved for planting purposes."

Monsanto isn't the only seed company warning against saving conventional seed. In the warranty disclaimer that comes along with the purchase of DuPont/Pioneer seed, under the heading "Restrictions and Limited Licenses for Variety Seed" one finds the following admonition:

"If the tag or the top of the bag indicates this product or the parental lines used in producing this product are protected under one or more US patents, Purchaser agrees that it is granted a limited license thereunder only to produce oilseeds or grain or forage for feeding or processing. Resale of this seed or supply of saved seed to anyone, including Purchaser, for planting is strictly prohibited under this licensee."

And, if a farmer claims to not have known that saving conventional, patented was prohibited, the warranty disclaimer also says "By opening the container, you acknowledge that you read and understood these terms and that you agree to be bound by them to the extent allowable by applicable laws."

One need not be a Philadelphia lawyer to see that there's a big problem brewing, especially if the Supreme Court rules in favor of patents on seeds. While there have been no reports of seed companies prosecuting farmers for saving patented, conventional, non-GMO seed, there will be nothing to stop them from doing so if the Supreme Court rules in favor of patents on seed in the JEM AgSupply v. Pioneer appeal it recently heard. The road will be wide open for prohibiting seed saving, as it will be within the "extent allowable by applicable laws."

Farmers need to be aware they may not always be able to save conventional seed, as in Monsanto's own words "all newer conventional varieties in the seed industry" are patented. Many farmers and their suppliers think only GMO seed is patented. They also think they will always have non-patented varieties for alternatives. However, will they be economically viable or worthwhile planting? Soon, all seed will be patented and there will be few or no non-patented alternatives, especially when seed companies connive to get broad patents, such as the one that covers high yield genes. This is what Monsanto currently is attempting in the European Union and may have already accomplished in the United States.

David Dechant grows wheat, alfalfa and corn in Colorado.

Other CropChoice headlines:

  • EU maintains moratorium on modified foods
  • New Zealand approves GMO field trials