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Monsanto suing after permission given to save soybean seed, farmer says

by Robert Schubert
CropChoice editor

(Monday, Jan. 13, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Monsanto is suing Stuttgart, Ark. farmer Clifford Timmerman for saving seed from the soybeans it genetically engineered to resist glyhphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The company launched its patent infringment lawsuit in October 2002 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis and wants about $50,000 in damages, says Mark Henry, legal counsel to Timmerman.

While admitting that he saved the seed, Timmerman contends that a Monsanto breeder gave him permission.

Timmerman began growing soybean seed for Hartz Seed Co. in 1968. He continued after Monsanto bought the company in 1986. By the mid-1990s, he was growing Roundup Ready soybeans.

In 1996, Curtis Williams, the lead plant breeder for Hartz and Monsanto at the company's facility in Stuttgart, informed Timmerman that he could save seed from the breed of Roundup Ready soybeans he had been growing under license because they had resulted from an illegal cross and the company planned to discontinue them, according to Timmerman's declaration before the court in late November.

The case is now "at a standstill," says the lawyer Henry until Judge Catherine D. Perry rules on his request to change the venue to the Eastern District of Arkansas because of the poor health of Timmerman, age 75.

"It is my opinion that in view of the diabetes, vision problems, and arthritis problems, Clifford Timmerman is able to drive county roads around his home only, and travel in and through city traffic would be impossible," Timmerman's physician, Noble Daniel, M.D., declared to the court.

Monsanto would not comment on the case.

Rather than engage in costly lawsuits, Henry says that most farmers whom Monsanto investigates settle with the company. As part of that, they admit to the patent infringement or breach of contract, pay for the seed in dispute, allow company representatives to enter their property for as long as two years and purchase exclusively Monsanto products.