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Evil Monsanto Aggressively Sues Farmers for Saving Seeds

Farmers have always saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year. But Monsanto and other big seed companies have changed the rules of the game.

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In the effort to police its "revolution," Monsanto does not limit itself to suing errant farmers. It also monitors farmer's co-ops, silo owners, seed-sellers, virtually anyone who has dealings with their patented seeds. And it employs tactics that may occasionally put it on the wrong side of the law. Iowa corn farmer Scott McAllister told Daily Finance that company investigators broke into his house, tapped his phones and "tailed his vehicles,"  charges which company spokesman Mica Veihman denied. But McAllister's allegations of Monsanto's extralegal intimidation of farmers is hardly unique.

Debbie Barker with the public interest organization  Save Our Seeds alleges in a 2013 report issued jointly by her group and the Center for Food Safety that a Monsanto agent forged the signature of Anthony Parr, an Illinois seed-cleaner, in an effort to convict him of "aiding and abetting" farmers by processing their seeds for replanting. 

Seed cleaners like Parr remove chaff and weed seed from harvested seed. Parr said that he was not aware that the seeds he cleaned were Monsanto's. Nevertheless, he racked up over $25,000 in legal fees before even setting foot in a courtroom and, like so many others, reluctantly settled out of court. Parr lost almost 90 percent of his former customers, who were afraid that associating with the hapless seed-cleaner would lead to prosecution against them as well.

Monsanto has spared no expense in its effort to nab patent violators. As early as 2003, the corporation had a department of 75 employees (dubbed "the gene police") with a budget of $10 million for the sole purpose of pursuing farmers for patent infringement, according to the Center for Food Safety/Save Our Seeds report. It has also hired a private investigation firm,  McDowell & Associates in Saint Louis. This investment has produced ample returns over the years. An analysis by the Center for Food Safety used Monsanto's own records to estimate that, as of 2006, farmers had paid the company an estimated $85 to $160 million in out-of-court settlements. 

Monsanto's investigatory and prosecutorial efforts are likely even larger today. However, the company no longer publishes this information, and they recently withdrew  the data which CFS used to make their estimate from its Internet site. [See page 6 of PDF.]

In its war against "seed pirates," Monsanto employs methods that are better known in law enforcement and military intelligence than in the world of farming. Monsanto analyzes satellite images, USDA planting data and bank records in its effort to track down errant farmers. Freese told Truthout that Monsanto agents sometimes pretend that they are conducting surveys of seed and chemical purchases and impersonate farmers or surveyors. Freese described one incident in Illinois, where a Monsanto investigator bragged that the company routinely hires retired farmers to pose as seed sellers in an effort to nab unsuspecting buyers in sting-type operations. Monsanto also has its own toll-free tip-line (1-800-ROUNDUP) where farmers are invited to inform on their neighbors, as thousands have reportedly already done.

"Instead of helping each other with barn-raisings and equipment sharing," a CFS report states, "those caught saving seed, a practice that is hundreds of years old, were turned into 'spies' against their neighbors, replacing the atmosphere of cooperation with one of distrust and suspicion." Critics accuse the company of fraying the delicate social fabric which holds farming communities together. 

Saskatchewan Canola farmer Percy Schmeiser was even more direct when he spoke to The Washington Post in 1999 about what he said farmers in his area called "a reign of terror ...  Everyone's looking at each other and asking, 'Did my neighbor say something?'"