In part one of this blog, we learned that the world’s largest chemical companies use patents to control the food supply. In part two we explore what this means for farmers, researchers, and consumers.
What Do Patented GMOs Mean For Farmers?
When farmers choose to plant GMO seeds, they must first sign a technology use agreement or a licensing agreement. These contracts dictate what farmers can and cannot do with the seeds they buy. A typical contract:
- Forbids saving, cleaning, or sharing seeds
- Forbids using seeds for research
- Requires farmers to allow the company to access their land, documents, and sometimes even Internet Service Provider records.
If you’d like to read a real biotech technology agreement, check out these examples:
These contracts also mean that farmers who violate their agreement—even unintentionally—may face litigation. Monsanto was particularly notorious for suing farmers, even when those farmers did not have an agreement with the company. They’ve even sued individual farm workers just for doing their jobs. These lawsuits are financially disastrous for small farms. Meanwhile, (pre-Bayer) Monsanto has been awarded more than $15 million in judgements against farmers.
What Does This Mean For Research?
Unfortunately, certain chemical companies have also been known to use their patent ownership to restrict research. Their contracts almost always explicitly forbid farmers to use or allow others to use seeds for research.
When a researcher or university wants to conduct their own study, they need to get permission from the patent holder. This allows the same corporations who make the GMOs to control who is allowed to study the GMOs. Sometimes they forbid research, and sometimes they restrict access to seeds and other materials. Even when research is possible, corporations that own the seeds retain the right to control publishing. When chemical companies dictate who can study their products, truly independent research is not possible.
What Can Consumers Do to Help?
Chemical companies have turned patents and litigation into weapons against farmers big and small. The good news is that as consumers, we have the power to change the way our food is grown and made. We can choose not to support practices that privatize our food supply, hurt small farmers, and restrict the free flow of information. The non-GMO movement is about more than the right to know, it’s also about doing what’s right!
If this is an issue that is important to you, learn more on the Open Source Seed Initiative Website or check out the list of seed producers who have committed to a patent-free future.