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Effects on Farmers & the Environment

Center for Food Safety

Effects on Farmers

Until only a few decades ago, many farmers often saved seeds for re-planting for future crops, and many also bred seeds for more desirable traits.  However, the advent of patent rules extending seed ownership and control has dramatically altered farmer-led seed breeding and free exchange of seed.

One of the central means of control over farmers’ ability to save seed is expressed through technology agreements that agrichemical companies now require farmers to sign upon seed purchases.  These technology agreements are aggressively, and often questionably, enforced as illustrated by CFS investigations: [1]

  • As of November 28, 2012, Monsanto had filed 142 lawsuits against farmers for alleged violations of its Technology Agreement and/or its patents on genetically engineered seeds.
  • Monsanto has sued farmers and small farm businesses in at least 27 different states.
  • Sums awarded to Monsanto in 72 recorded judgments against farmers totaled $23,675,820.99.

Monsanto is not the only seed corporation engaging in lawsuits over “seed piracy” matters.  Beginning in 2013, DuPont began sending dozens of retired police officers across Canada to search for illegal seed-saving and enforce patents.

Effects on the Environment

While little considered, seed patent and IPR systems have profound impacts upon the environment.  Several examples illustrate this:

  • Increased market concentration by a handful of agrichemical companies has dramatically diminished seed varieties and biodiversity.  A 1983 study by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) revealed that over the course of eighty years, the U.S. lost 93 percent of its agricultural genetic diversity.[2]  RAFI’s report concludes that 75 percent of today’s food calories worldwide are derived from just nine plants.[3] 
  • As already noted, seed patenting rules have greatly assisted the development and distribution of GE seeds.  However, this technology has resulted in ever increasing amounts of pesticides.  The most comprehensive independent study to date, based on USDA data, found that herbicide-tolerant crops used upwards of 20 percent more pesticides per acre than non-GE, conventional crops.[4]

 

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[1] http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Monsanto-v-US-Farmer-2012-Update-final.pdf

[2] Gwen Sharp, “Loss Of Genetic Diversity In U.S. Food Crops,” The Society Pages, July 19, 2011, accessed August 7, 2012, http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/07/19/loss-of-genetic-diversity-in-u-s-food-crops

[3] Cary Fowler and Pat Mooney, Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990).

[4] Benbrook: Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. – the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe 2012 24:24. Supplemental Table 8.

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