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Monsanto sees opportunity in glyphosate resistant volunteers, part 2

By David Dechant
For CropChoice

(Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003-- CropChoice guest commentary) -- In August of 2001, I wrote a CropChoice article about Monsantoís patenting of the practice of mixing other herbicides with glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) in order to control volunteer Roundup Ready corn in fields of Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as other RR volunteers in other RR crops as Monsanto gets more of them commercialized (link to original piece available following this commentary). This patent, US PTO #6,239,072, also covers any premixes of glyphosate with those other herbicides. Since Monsanto now has begun to reference this patent, among the dozens of others, in its new 2003 tech agreement, I decided to write a sequel.

Monsantoís patent on glyphosate molecule itself expired in September of 2000. So, both the price and the quantity of glyphosate that Monsanto sells have decreased, which is a big factor in its reported $1.7 billion loss last year. In a desperate attempt to regain some sales and exert whatever control it can over glyphosate market, the new tech agreement, which farmers must sign if they want to plant any of Monsantoís GMOs, reads as follows:

"You receive a limited use license to prepare and apply on glyphosate tolerant soybean, cotton, or canola crops (or have others prepare and apply) tank mixes of, or sequentially apply (or have others sequentially apply) Roundup or other glyphosate herbicides labeled for use on those crops with quizalofop, clethodim, sethoxydim, fluazifop and/or fenoxiprop to control volunteer Roundup Ready corn in grower's crops for the 2003 growing season. However, neither grower nor a third party may utilize any type of co-pack or premix of glyphosate plus one or more of the above-identified active ingredients in the preparation of a tank mix."

Itís sure strange that, all of a sudden, farmers and custom applicators now have to get a license from Monsanto to take care of a problem it caused in the first place: volunteer RR corn in field of RR soybeans or other RR crops! Theyíve been doing so ever since RR corn was first commercialized, before Monsanto applied for the patent in March of 1999. Furthermore, itís strange that the US Patent Office would even consider granting Monsanto the tank mix patent, as patents are supposed to be for novel inventions. There is nothing novel or inventive about mixing herbicides.

So, what does this patent really mean for farmers, being that Monsanto is trying to make it look like it is giving them something of value and so far, apparently, not charging them anything to license it?

For one, it precludes other chemical companies from selling to farmers any commercial premixes of glyphosate with the grass specific post emergence herbicides the patent mentions, even as those other herbicides begin to go off patent in a few years. Consequently, if other chemical companies could sell them at a better price than Monsanto, they wonít because if farmers cannot apply such premixes, they wonít bother selling them.

Two, one must think ahead to the day when Monsantoís patent on the RR gene expires. Itís not enough that, in 1995, Congress extended patent terms to 20 years from 17 in order to satisfy the WTO. Monsanto wants control for an even longer term. As such, if other seed companies gain free access to the RR gene upon the expiration of its patent, or even if farmers are then free to save seed, Monsanto can still come after them for spraying glyphosate mixed with other chemicals to control volunteer RR plants, as that patent would expire later.

Last, a major concession other countries must make upon negotiating free trade agreements with the US is that they will provide greater protection for US Intellectual Property Rights. And what do these other countries get in return? They get greater market access, especially in those markets where traditional American industry supplies or used to supply most of the goods. This includes markets for meat, dairy products, fruit, and so on. And, itís a real shame that so many workers in the US have been and are getting sold out so that Hollywood can earn a few more royalties, or that software tycoons can do the same, or that the Drug/Biotech/Chemical companies can impose higher prices on citizens of other countries by making them comply with patents granted by an out-of-control and inept US Patent and Trademark Office.

Monsanto 2003 Tech Contract

Monsanto sees opportunity in glyphosate resistant volunteers, part I: