Jacology: Who Owns Farm Seeds

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(KPLR) – In Tuesday's Jacology, Charles Jaco looks at the "root" of a Supreme Court case involving Monsanto.

Hugh Bwman is 75 years old. He farms around 300 acres of corn, wheat, and soybeans just outside of Sandborn, Indiana--population four hundred and-15. Like a lot of farmers, he's flat broke. The Monsanto Corporation is not. They had revenue of 12 billion dollars last year. They have 20-thousand employees worldwide. And today before the United States Supreme Court, Hugh Bowman squared off against Monsanto.

The issue is huge. Who owns the seeds produced by crops in the field? Right now, companies like Monsanto own the patents on all sorts of genetically-modified seeds they developed. Their biggest sellers are seeds that produce plants that won't be harmed by another Monsanto product, Roundup. Roundup kills weeds and poison ivy and heavy brush. It would also kill corn and wheat and soybeans that weren't resistant to it.

So farmers buy the patented roundup resistant seeds. They plant them. They use roundup herbicide to kill the weeds. Presto. You get huge crop yields. Through its patents, Monsanto now controls one-fourth of all the world's crop seeds. Hugh Bowman planted Monsanto seeds mixed with regular seeds from a local grain elevator.

Monsanto said that violated their patent. They sued. Bowman's getting legal help from attorneys who took his case for free. And now the U.S. Supreme Court gets the case to decide how long a patent on a life form can last. Think about it. Monsanto owns the patent on the original seeds. But what about the seeds of those seeds? Or the next ten generations of seeds from those plants?

Does Monsanto own them, too? How many generations before the patent expires? Or maybe it never does and whoever's patented a life form, owns the patent on that life form's great great great grandchildren, too? It sounds like science fiction. But it's very real.

I'm Charles Jaco and that's Jacology.

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