Op-Ed: 5 million Brazilian farmers sue Monsanto in huge class action

Posted Jun 5, 2012 by Paul Wallis
Monsanto is hitting a lot of resistance from India, and now Brazil has entered the war against the company. Farmers accuse Monsanto of effectively taxing them illegally by demanding royalties. The issue is whether Monsanto owns rights to crops.
Family Farmers vs. Monsanto
Family Farmers vs. Monsanto
Food Democracy Now
According to, GM seed first entered Brazil illegally from Argentina, apparently smuggled in. New figures indicate that up to 85 per cent of Brazil’s crops contain GM elements. Monsanto, under its royalty agreement, claims 2 per cent of the value of these crops. That’s a lot of money, particularly in a country like Brazil, where farmers’ earnings aren’t exactly luxurious. quotes a lawyer for the farmers speaking to Associated Press:
“Monsanto gets paid when it sell (sic) 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). Producers are in effect paying a private tax on production.”
This isn’t quite as simple as it might look. The history of GM law is neither rational nor straightforward. Monsanto, or Monsanto Claus as some of us call them, may have entered into legal contracts with the farmers, in which case it has a legal argument. The farmers, sadly, may have entered into agreements which they didn’t understand. Unless there’s a working legal framework to protect their right to multiply seeds in some form, this is not a clear-cut case. If the farmers have well-defined legal rights, this could be the biggest court case ever to affect GM food.
The law as a sleepwalking dinosaur
Justice is lacking in GM law around the world. Monsanto is generally reviled by Green groups, organic farmers and many conventional farmers for their heavy-handed enforcement of their claims to rights over their seeds. The fact is that the law, as usual, is decades behind the technology. Even the basic legal principles of ownership of genetic materials are lagging way behind the science.
Worse, they’re also lagging light years behind the commercial realities of GM products. Biotech companies and their lawyers have been aggressively pushing for as many legal rights as they can get, and the saying “there’s no law against it” has never been more nauseatingly true. People may claim what they want about the risks of GM food, the lack of proper generational research and apparently total lack of ethics in the science, but the basis for any legal response isn’t strong at all.
The war against Monsanto
Many people have voiced their anger about the apparent lack of interest in regulation by governments. Monsanto is the highest profile company in this category. This corporate colossus is genuinely loathed around the world, but it’s also the model for a type of business which needs to be studied.
Monsanto spends as much time in court and in patent offices as it does in actual sales operations. It’d be a slight overstatement, but not much of one, to say that this is the archetypal company that the legalistic and litigationist corporate culture of the United States has evolved. The biotech companies have totally evaded conventional law so often that it’s a joke, if a bad one, to claim that they’re regulated or subject to any real legal remedies at all.
India was the first big national government to take direct action against Monsanto. (Peru and Hungary have previously taken action against the company) The revelations of massive crop failures and a catastrophic financial situation in which farmers went progressively broke were bad enough, but “bio piracy” was the last straw for the Indians.
According to Natural earlier this year:
The charges were brought against Monsanto for utilizing a local eggplant variety to develop their own genetically modified version including the notorious biopesticide Bt. Monsanto’s Bt GMO crops are known to threaten the environment in addition to human health, and India considers Monsanto’s unauthorized testing of the crops to be biopiracy
Brazil’s entry into legal confrontation with Monsanto is a potential signal to other nations that there may be legal bases for challenging the company on various issues related to its operations.
Which raises these questions:
1. Why are the poorest people on Earth doing the fighting for everyone else?
2. Why is GM science totally unquestioned by health authorities, courts and legislatively comatose in the West?
3. Why is there no argument in those supposedly peer-reviewed scientific circles, which can bitch about the most trivial issues on any other subject, about GM food?
4. Why are nutritionists, people incapable of shutting up on the subject of virtually anything which can be stuffed into a human mouth, totally silent on GM food?
The rumours about GM food aren’t pretty. Some are quite disgusting. One of those rumours includes a theory that GM food can’t be properly digested. It remains in the body. The actual genetic properties of GM food are usually vaguely described in relation to human health.
Given that a lot of US food now contains GM elements in one form or another, maybe it’d be an idea if the comatose media and other staggeringly useless parts of the society investigated these issues? GM food was a very hot environmental topic, years ago. It has since dropped completely off the map, like all other environmental health news.
Imagine a society in which nobody really knows or has any way of knowing what the risks of eating their food might be. The groundwork for this was laid earlier by the “we’ll approve anything anyone tells us to approve FDA” on a suite of food additives and has since spread around the world. “Acceptable” levels of major toxins are medically a contradiction in terms, but not at law.
One thing’s for sure- The biotech companies are true gamblers. They’re prepared to operate with risks which could lead to massive lawsuits, and they don’t give a damn. They also don’t give a damn about public backlash unless it hits their sales.
There’s a black comedy theory going around at the moment. The theory is that if the rest of the world starts eating like the West, it will become as fundamentally unhealthy as the US and just as susceptible to far higher rates of just about every known lethal disease. That might even include the employees and managers of the biotech companies. The problem might solve itself.
The Brazilian case hits a key world staple crop, soy. There's huge money involved, and a long supply chain throughout the food sector. If the farmers win, it's a huge victory for farmers and the start of the beginning of the end for the GM monopolies.
Until then, I won’t be eating any GM food. As it is, I loathe whatever it is that’s being put in tinned and packaged food- It’s inedible. I definitely won’t be eating anything I suspect to have come from a Monsanto crop.