Monsanto's seed patent case is up for review by US courts, as Jeremy Bloom wrote yesterday. Brought on from an appeal from farmers, the court has agreed to rethink a corporation's legal right to own reproducing life forms.
Life forms, by definition, reproduce. If you are a proud graduate of the American high school sex education program, we're sure you know this by now.
This is not the first time the Supreme Court has taken up the case of genetically engineered seeds. In 2006, farmers concerned about cross pollination with Monsanto's seeds went to the courts, as our Becky Striepe wrote. However, an eventual ban on GMO alfalfa was overturned again in 2010.
But now the debate is not over genetically modified organisms, but over a company's ability to own them.
As anyone who's ever watched the Discovery Channel can tell you, reproduction is not always not and clean. Patenting a parent generation and--by association--all offspring is begging for trouble.
If you "own" an entire species, do you own only individuals with 100% the original genetic combination (a clone) of the parent? 60%? But then, humans share 60% of the same genes as fruit flies!
Another problem is crossbreeding. Unless you have a way to ensure that no mating occurs, you're going to run into problems. If you have any experience preventing hanky panky as a parent of one or two children, just imagine trying it for a field of tens of thousands of flowers! You either need miniature traffic control telling bees which flowers (not) to pollinate, or you need a new patent: plant condoms.
Cross pollination will occur. As the character Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurasic Park said, "I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."
In the classic Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, a farmer's crop became naturally cross pollinated with seeds produced by Monsanto. The Goliath sued Schmeiser for patent infringement. Eventually, Schmeiser won and Monsanto was required to pay to clean up the genetic contamination of the family farmer's crop.
This nightmare legal case--both for the farmer and the seed and chemical company--is a prime example of the danger of patenting life.
The court's review of Monsanto's patents on reproducing life forms may finally vindicate all the farmers who have been sued by Monsanto over the last two decades for something as benign as bees landing on the wrong flower. Ironically, it could also protect the large corporation from reverse law suits to pay for the cleanup of genetic contamination.