Recently there has been a minor buzz in the blogosphere about seed cleaners. The allegations are seed cleaners are being targeted by Monsanto, reportedly because we are trying to “remove access to normal, open pollinated seeds”–presumably so farmers will be forced to buy our patented, biotech seeds. As is often the situation, the truth is far less dramatic than fiction–and this is especially true in this case.
First, growers have been moving away from open-pollinated seeds to hybrids for decades. Hybrids often provide distinct advantages, most notably yield. But, you generally can’t save seed from most hybrids because the resulting offspring are genetically inconsistent, and will not offer the same benefits as the parent seed.
Second, intellectual property protection for seed and plant material is neither new nor unique to either biotech or Monsanto. In most developed countries plant breeders have had legal protection from the unauthorized reproduction of their innovations for decades. Without this protection, there would be little incentive for breeders to invest time and money into developing new plant varieties. In the U.S., intellectual property protection for plant materials exists in both patent law and under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA). Google the terms “raspberry” and “patented” and you will get a sense of how commonplace patent protection is in plant breeding. You should also note that there are no commercially-approved genetically-modified (GM) raspberries (or any GM raspberries of which I am aware).
Third, Monsanto isn’t the only company or group that protects its intellectual property. The Kansas Wheat Alliance recently took action against a number of farmers who violated the PVPA. North Carolina State University Extension Service has published an excellent bulletin for growers and seed cleaners–informing them of laws and regulations governing saving, cleaning and planting protected varieties of wheat. Wheat, like raspberries, is not GM.
Finally, Monsanto is not trying to remove open pollinated/unpatented seeds from the market. We have nothing against seed cleaners. The vast majority of seed cleaners are law-abiding business people who run legitimate operations that serve the needs of the agricultural community–just like Monsanto. We have taken exception to, and action against, seed cleaners who have knowingly participated in infringing on Monsanto patents. However, stating that Monsanto is out to get all seed cleaners is like saying all seed cleaners violate patent laws and the PVPA. It simply isn’t true.