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.
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