In July of 2015, Neil Young released a mini-documentary “Seeding Fear”, attacking Monsanto. The documentary focuses on farmer Michael White who was illegally growing, selling and cleaning Roundup Ready soybeans in 2005.
Although they have tended to get a lot of attention, lawsuits between Monsanto and farmers who plant seeds without paying for them are actually very rare. Every year, hundreds of thousands of farmers plant our seeds. And since 1997, when we started trying to protect the patents on our seeds, we have gone to trial with a fraction of 1 percent of those customers.
Michael White, a farmer in Alabama, has been quoted in books and videos as taking on Monsanto in court, and his story has been characterized as heartbreaking. However, Mr. White has not been transparent in describing his actions and experience. He admitted he knowingly planted, produced, saved, cleaned and sold Roundup Ready® soybeans (which contain a patented trait) without authorization (View court documents). In addition, in the settlement, Mr. White acknowledged that he knew the soybeans were protected by patent rights and, that by cleaning other farmers’ seeds, he was enabling them to infringe on our patent rights as well.
When the case was settled in 2006, we were compassionate and reduced the settlement figure to pennies on the dollar from the original decision of the court. In addition, all of the proceeds we received from Mr. White were donated to youth leadership initiatives and to support the local communities in which farmers live and work.
At the end of the day, we pursue saved seed matters for three main reasons:
- First, almost all our customers stick to their agreements, but some do not. Those who do not have an unfair advantage over other farmers, because everyone else is paying for seeds that they are saving illegally.
- Second, no business in any industry can survive without being paid for its products – this is true for agriculture just like it is for medicine, computer software, environmental science, etc. In May 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the role that patent rights play in enabling innovation in biotechnology and other fields where breakthrough discoveries require substantial R&D investments that depend upon the protections afforded under U.S. patent law.
- Third, while it’s important to Monsanto to protect our investment, it is extremely important to the entire agricultural community that we be able to continue to reinvest in new and better seed technology.
We are dedicated to our farmer customers and we have committed that we will not sue (nor ever have sued) when trace amounts of our traits are present in a farmer’s field as an accident or a result of inadvertent means.
Read our responses to questions from consumers: