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August 10, 2010
Big business controls American food on nearly every level. In most cases, the effects on our health are merely questionable, but one specific set of circumstances is endangering human life in general, and American life in particular: the genetically-modified plant world. There are many elements to the story, from the corporate to the judicial to the biological.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
It all started with a 1980 Supreme Court case, Diamond v. Chakrabarty, wherein the Court determined that living organisms could be patented. This led to the US Patent Office deciding five years later (in a case called Ex parte Hibberd) that the Supreme Court’s decision could be applied specifically to the seeds of sexually reproducing plants. That decision was unique in that it allowed the seeds’ patent-holders to prevent anyone else from using the seeds for research or agricultural purposes.
The upshot of this is that today, if you plant seeds that are patented, you are not legally allowed to take the seeds from your own plants and replant them. You have to repurchase your seeds from their owner company every growing season. When a particular kind of seed becomes popular (such as Monsanto’s ‘Roundup Ready’ corn, which you can spray Roundup all over without harming), the company has complete control over how much you pay.
Monsanto, of course, is vicious about protecting its patent, to the point of suing farmers out of business if they don’t purchase the corn, on the assumption that they are using it by getting the seeds illegally. (God forbid someone would want to just grow plain old corn!) Even if the farmers’ cases go in their favor, Monsanto can and will spend hundreds of millions of dollars prolonging the court case just so that the legal fees alone will bankrupt a farmer on their blacklist. By so doing, they’re slowly weeding out all of the farmers that dare to not buy their products at their grossly inflated prices.
How inflated? In the last two years, the price of corn seeds has spiked by thirty percent. Normally, this would completely shatter much of the economy because corn is used for everything from animal feed to industrial lubricant to food additives. But the corn subsidies the government provides keep corn at a stable [artificially low] market price regardless of how much it costs to grow, so when Monsanto jacks up its prices, it’s actually the taxpayers that bear the burden.