Gets Ready to Plant, and Battle in Court Over Seed"
May 7, 2001
Roger Nelson is
preparing the seed bed for his wheat as his lawyer prepares to fight
a seed battle in court.
Nelson, 61, and sons
Greg and Rodney have been sued by Monsanto, which accused them of
saving seed from genetically-engineered soybeans to use the
following year. The company alleges the Nelsons used its technology
without paying for it. They deny Monsanto's claim.
The case is in federal
court in St. Louis, but the Nelson's lawyer, Mark Fraase, has filed
a motion to move it to Fargo. Fraase said the trial might not start
for at least 10 months.
Both sides have waived a
jury in the case, so it will be heard by a judge.
Although the Nelsons'
2000 crop wasn't part of the lawsuit, it, too, is in question.
Monsanto claims the Nelsons infringed on its patent "and
continue to do so," Fraase said.
Monsanto filed the
lawsuit in October over the 1999 crop. The company came in November
to sample the 2000 crop, but the fields were so wet that the
investigators went home empty-handed.
"They haven't been
here yet, that we know of," Nelson said, while riding in his
tractor last week.
Lori Fisher, a
spokeswoman for Monsanto, did not immediately return a phone call
seeking comment on Monday.
The correspondence from
Monsanto included questionnaires with "a lot of questions about
our cotton crop up here," showing a lack of knowledge about
North Dakota farms, he said.
After this year's spring
flooding, the Nelsons said, fields could be contaminated with
soybean debris from other neighboring fields. Some township roads in
their neighborhood were washed out and some fields were totally
The Nelsons and Fraase
took their case to the North Dakota Sate Seed Arbitration Board in
March. The board said last month that it could find no evidence
violated Monsanto's patent rights.
Monsanto refused to show
up at the hearing, but later requested tapes and evidence from the
arbitration case, in preparation for its case in federal court.
The case prompted the
Legislature to pass what was known as the "Nelson bill," which requires companies such as Monsanto to notify
farmers when they suspect them of patent infringements.
For their 2001 crop, the
Nelsons said they will plant all "conventional" seed,
though they said it is easy to have contamination.
Personal issues aside,
Nelson said he wonders about the future of biotech crops, in a world
in which two companies may control 80 percent of the seed stock and
consumer acceptance is questionable.
"A farmer can go
out and buy brand new, conventional seed and you can't get any
written guarantees that they're GMO-free," Nelson said.
"If we liked the conventional variety we're using, we might
save some of it for seed in 2002. Under a current ruling out of
Canada, if that seed contained some Roundup Ready genes, we'd be
infringing on Monsanto patent. It's insanity."
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