Monsanto, the multinational agribusiness giant that brought us genetically modified (GMO) corn, soy, and cotton (as well as Agent Orange, dioxin, and other nasties), broke the rules in Brazil, and it’s going to cost them.
While US courts have been pretty tolerant of Monsanto (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto employee), the Brazillian courts aren’t putting up with their bullshit. They ruled that a lawsuit from a group of farmers in one region should apply to all farmers across the country – which means Monsanto will end up owing between $2 billion and $7.5 billion.
What happened? The case was pretty straightforward.
- Monsanto makes money off of patented seeds (something that didn’t even exist until just a few years ago; the notion that companies could patent life-forms would have appalled the founding fathers). It collects royalty payments from farmers.
- But that wasn’t enough for Monsanto. I continued to collect royalties on their GMO soy seeds even after their patents had expired in Brazil. Why not? Farmers would have to sue them to get the money back, and Monsanto has had a pretty good track record beating farmers in court, and dragging cases out for years.
- But a group of 5 million Brazilian farmers sued, and won.
- Monsanto tried to argue that the ruling should only apply to the farmers in a single state, but the Supreme Court said “Don’t be ridiculous”.
- Now the GMO giant will have to pay the $7.5 billion back.
Jane Berwanger, a lawyer for the farmers, attacked the very idea that Monsanto should be able to collect a royalty for every generation of their GMO seeds:
“Monsanto gets paid when it sells the seeds. The law gives producers the right to multiply the seeds they buy and nowhere in the world is there a requirement to pay (again).”
Monsanto has appealed the decision, and it make take years before the final ruling comes down.
(Image by ianmackenz on Flickr via Creative Commons.)