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Monsanto wins unanimous Supreme Court ruling

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Monsanto has won a Supreme Court case against a farmer who fought a demand from the company that he pay for a second crop of seeds he planted using their genetically modified soybeans.

WASHINGTON DC (Catholic Online) - Monsanto sued farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who signed a contract for a batch of genetically altered soybean seeds from the company. Monsanto genetically modified the seeds to make them resistant to Roundup, which is an herbicide the company produces.

The contract includes a promise from the farmer to purchase a new batch of seeds from Monsanto for any future crops, and not to save any seeds for subsequent planting.

So after his initial crop was harvested, Bowman decided to plant a second crop before the end of the season, but he wanted to use Monsanto seeds for it. His dilemma was that he'd have to buy a new batch from Monsanto if he wanted to do that, but did not wish to pay the expense.

To obtain the new seeds, he purchased seeds from a grain elevator. Bowman knew the seeds would probably contain a high proportion of seeds harvested from Monsanto stock. This would, he reasoned, allow him to grow a second crop of soybeans without violating his contract.

Not so, the company claimed, and took Bowman to court.

Monsanto argued that what he did amounted to trading harvests with other Monsanto-contracted farmers. Bowman argued that what he did was legal.

So did Bowman exploit a loophole by simply buying a cheaper, second crop of Monsanto seeds harvested from elsewhere? The Supreme Court ruled today that he did and ordered that Bowman pay $84,000 in damages to Monsanto.

Justice Elena Kagan issued the ruling saying that Bowman had violated his agreement by using seeds purchased from another crop that was also bound by a contract forbidding their planting.

Kagan explained that allowing Bowman to do what he did would essentially destroy the company's patent.

However, she also said the court was ruling very narrowly on the case at hand, and that the ruling should not be interpreted to apply to the increasingly complex issue of genetically modified crops.

"Our holding today is limited - addressing the situation before us, rather than every one involving a self-replicating product," she wrote. "We recognize that such inventions are becoming ever more prevalent, complex, and diverse. In another case, the article's self-replication might occur outside the purchaser's control. Or it might be a necessary but incidental step in using the item for another purpose."

The ruling of the court was unanimous.

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