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“Seeding Fear” Seeds Misinformation

Featured Article

By Nick Weber

Yesterday, Neil Young released a documentary video, “Seeding Fear,” featuring Alabama farmer Michael White and his side of the story about his legal dealings with Monsanto. While the video appears to be “heartbreaking,” the reality is much different, as Mr. White’s story is incomplete and the video is sprinkled throughout with inaccurate information.

The case of Michael White vs. Monsanto

Mr. White is not transparent in describing his actions or the situation. He actually admitted to knowingly planting, producing, saving, cleaning and selling Roundup Ready® soybeans illegally. All of this information is available in court documents, Monsanto Company versus Michael White, Wayne White, White’s Seed Cleaning, and White Farms Feed & Seed.

Mr. White started saving Roundup Ready seeds on his family farm in 1998. He continued to do so in 1999, and at this point, he began selling the seeds to Alabama farmers. Mr. White continued this practice in 2000, 2001 and 2002, at which point Monsanto realized he was saving and cleaning patented seeds. The company approached both Wayne and Michael White with evidence, and ended up dismissing the case against Wayne when Michael admitted to farming in his father’s name.  After a couple years of legal actions, the company settled with Michael in 2006. Again, Michael White admitted he knowingly planted, produced, saved, cleaned and sold Roundup Ready soybeans, which are protected by a patent.

Mr. White’s actions are equivalent to pirating an album, producing thousands of copies and selling bootleg copies – all while knowing it is illegal and that it will result in criminal charges if caught.

Inaccurate statements in the video

Mr. White has stated various inaccurate and misleading information in the video as a way to misinform viewers about Monsanto and agriculture.

  • Monsanto has “sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.” The reality is that Monsanto has pursued legal action against 147 farmers, with 11 cases going to trial. As there are more than 300,000 farmers as potential customers every year, this number equates to less than 0.1% of all farmers.
  • “Over 90% of the soy beans (sic), corn and cotton produced in the USA are a product of Monsanto.” This stat gets used frequently and is misinformation. Monsanto is one of hundreds of seed companies selling corn, soybean, cotton and many other crop seeds to farmers. For corn, cotton, soybeans, alfalfa, sugarbeets and canola, we (in addition to other companies) offer seeds that are genetically modified (GMOs). These seeds may have our GMO technology, which is licensed by other companies, in the seed. So, while 90 percent of the soybeans grown by U.S. farmers may be tolerant to an application of Roundup herbicide, those soybeans are sold by hundreds of companies, including Monsanto. The Roundup Ready trait, which Monsanto patented, is licensed to the other seed companies for use in their seeds’ genetics.
  • “The thousand-year tradition of saving seed is over with.” Farmers can still save seed. Mr. White notes he still does this. Wheat, soybeans and cotton, in addition to other grains like barley and oats, are saved by farmers all over the country. However, farmers cannot save seed if there is a patent on the seed (like the Roundup Ready soybeans). Farmers may also choose not to save seed year after year, because seed companies and universities are improving the genetics of the crops every year.
  • Terminator genes. Monsanto has never developed a biotech trait that resulted in sterile – or “Terminator” – seeds. Actually, no company has. Monsanto made a commitment in 1999 not to commercialize technologies that result in sterile seeds in food crops, and we have no plans or research that would violate this commitment.

We invite you to learn more by clicking here, or by visiting www.monsanto.com and discover.monsanto.com. And if you’d like to ask us any questions about our business, please ask us as part of The Conversation feature on discover.monsanto.com.

4 Responses to "“Seeding Fear” Seeds Misinformation"

  1. Your excuses in this blog are flimsy at best. You say we haven’t sued hundreds, just 147. Hum. With cause? Really? 147 farmers are infringing on your patents? Which takes me to your second point. A patent is taking ownership of something and I find it hard to believe that farmers have tried to use your patented seeds. In fact, I’ve heard that you strong-arm farmers to use them. And the fact that you grow most of the corn and soybeans just means that you have pushed others out. And you don’t produce sterile seed. Okay. Do you know the long-term effects of what you do produce? Seems to me you don’t care as long as you make money. I read labels and more of us out here are. If you really believe you produce a safe product, then why are you spending so much lobbying money to keep GMO disclosures off food labels. I’d think you’d be proud to raise the flag over your products. You’ve fooled the public for decades now, but more people are wising up.

    Reply
    • Hi Kellie,
      If you read the blog post in its entirety, you will see a link that takes you to our website and to the actual court documents regarding Michael White. As you can see, there are no excuses here. This farmer knowingly saved, cleaned, and re-used seed. He had a contract with us that stated he could not save the seed, and violated that contract. He admits this in court.

      Like many businesses, we have formal agreements with our customers to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone. Almost all of our customers stick to their agreements, and they want us to make sure others are doing the same – otherwise, it’s not a level playing field for them. But the fact is, a very small number of our customers don’t stick to their agreements. Very rarely, these situations end up in court, but this is always a last resort for us, and has affected a tiny percentage of our customers. On the rare occasion these situations go to trial, we give 100% of what we collect from any judgment to non-profit youth leadership initiatives in that area, so that the money is returned to the farming community. That’s also true with any out-of-court settlement.

      Regarding your comment on corn and soybeans, that is also answered in this blog post. Regarding labeling, we have written a blog post stating our position and why, here: http://monsantoblog.com/2014/09/29/supporting-a-federal-approach-to-food-labeling/.

      Reply
  2. Mr. Weber,
    Your article is very straightforward, and I appreciate all of the information you provide. I was unaware of the fact that Monsanto licensed its seeds out to other companies. Are the patent contracts the same for each company? So does a farmer purchasing Roundup resistant seed from a licensed company receive the same contract as a farmer purchasing straight from Monsanto? Also, I was unable to find the link for the court records. Thank you for your time!

    Reply
    • Hi Nic,
      The vast majority of our licenses to third party seed companies use standardized terms, but there are also licenses that are unique and the product of extensive one-on-one negotiations with the licensee. Those are most typically with seed companies that operate their own breeding or biotech programs or that operate in multiple countries. The licenses that we offer to farmers for use of our technology are nearly completely uniform in any particular country, that is, they do not favor or disfavor particular farmers. Some growers receive rights to use our technology through third party seed companies who have licenses from us, but who use their own form of farmer licenses rather than our form. We do not know how third party licenses may vary, but the rights regarding use of our technology are similar.

      Reply

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