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July 03, 2001

Sowing the Seeds

From the Department of the Law of Unintended Consequences, comes this unforseen negative attribute of genetically engineered organisms. While many opponents have worried about ecological disasters, it seems we weren't pessimistic enough.

Monsanto is suing farmers for having it's patented genetically modified crops on their land. In some of the suits, the farmers actually bought the organisms for one crop year, and are being sued on the basis of 'saving seed in violation of legal agreements'.

But in other cases, they are just 'auditing' the crops of farmers in a region where their seed is sold, and then suing farmers with said organism in their crops. In both cases, the mere fact that life will find a way to spread seems to be ignored in the suits. Are the farmers (both those who buy and those who are merely in proximity) supposed to salt the earth between crops to satisfy Monsanto?

What got me thinking about this was a news article this morning about the Earth Liberation Front, a monkeywrenching group which has been destroying GM research plots and committing arson on some labs. Public officials are playing a positioning game, labelling the ELF a 'terrorist' organization. If you cut down thousands of acres of old growth forest you are an entrepreneur, but...

Anyway, while the farmers have acquired legal help, it occured to me that what is really needed is a pro bono legal service along the lines of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, or the ACLU, only focused on questioning GM patents and corporate abuse of same. The two aforementioned organizations are very good at attacking violators of civil liberties, but nobody seems to want to tackle this emerging area. What we need is the equivalent of 'environmental ambulance chasers'. That is, lawyers who have the self-interested expectation of winning suits against abusive corporations like Monsanto, with the side-effect of protecting the farmers who are currently being harassed.

By the way, while all this may sound massively liberal (it is), I don't think that the worker in the field, such as the lumberjacks who work for the large lumber companies, are in any way evil. The usual semantic attack is to say that you must hate the little guy if he works for the big, bad corporation. Not so.

Posted by dpwakefield at July 3, 2001 08:27 AM