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Some farmers say Brazilians pirate Monsanto's gene-altered soy

(Monday, May 5, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Some points to consider in the following Bloomberg story:

Monsanto fought to defeat the Agracetus and Calgene patents but then bought them and now fights to protect them.

With the pressure from the American Soybean Association (ASA) and Monsanto on U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick to go after Brazil for not pursuing farmers there who use Roundup Ready seed without paying a technology fee, a deal will be struck. Brazil will get more access to U.S. beef, dairy and other domestic markets in return for stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights. Just how Brazil, Argentina or China would enforce the seed saving ban that Monsanto wants is difficult to say.

The ASA has said nothing about the fact that the price of generic Roundup (active ingredient: glyphosate) has not come down to world levels today, some two and a half years after the patent on glyphosate expired. Don't forget, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1983 gave Monsanto an extra 9 years of patent proteciton on glyphosate. Consequently, U.S. farmers have been paying many times what their counterparts elsewhere pay for the herbicide.

If Monsanto were really serious about enforcing its patents on Roundup Ready seed, it would prohibit importation of soybeans from Argentina and Brazil into countries where patent law is strong, such as the European Union or Japan. This is what the company is getting pressure from the ASA, the National Corn Growers Association and the Farm Bureau to do in the United States with Roundup Ready soybeans. Those organizations probably wouldn't check because Monsanto doesn't want bad publicity. It knows that people would turn on it and the idea of patents being used to prevent food imports.

Some farmers say Brazilians pirate Monsanto's gene-altered soy
By Mark Drajem
Washington, May 2 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. farmers are urging the Bush administration to take action against Brazil, saying that growers there are pirating Monsanto Co.'s gene-altered soybeans. The U.S. farmers told the office of Trade Representative Robert Zoellick that Brazilians are defying their government's ban on growing genetically modified organisms by planting biotechnology seeds without paying royalties to Monsanto -- and then marketing the crops as ``GMO free.''

``The Brazilian farmers steal the seeds and then sell the crops for a premium,'' said Ron Heck, a Perry, Iowa, farmer and vice president of the American Soybean Association, which represents 26,000 growers. ``It's not a good situation for me, and it's not a good situation for Monsanto.''

The allegations occur amid growing competition for export sales between the U.S., the largest soybean producer, and Brazil, the second largest. Soybeans were a $15 billion crop in the U.S. last year, second in value only to corn, and exports account for about a third of bushels sold. Many global customers, including China, are reluctant to accept the new technology.

Brazil technically bans genetically modified soybeans, although it acknowledges that they have been planted in a region in the south and along the border with Argentina and Paraguay, where those varieties are common. The Brazilian embassy in Washington declined to comment. With the genetic modification, soybean plants are able to resist applications of Roundup, Monsanto's top-selling weed- killer.

More Piracy Concerns

``There are growers who are using the technology without compensating us,'' Monsanto spokeswoman Lori Fisher said. The company is looking for a solution in Brazil ``that is fair to all growers while protecting the intellectual property of our technology.''

The complaint shows the range of anti-piracy concerns beyond the more typical cases involving movies, music and software. Illegal copies of everything from razors to compact discs cost U.S. companies as much as $250 billion a year, the U.S. trade office said yesterday in its annual assessment of countries' patent and copyright protection.

The American Soybean Association accuses farmers in Brazil of taking seeds from harvests in Argentina, where biotech soybeans are legal, and then planting them in Brazil. Farmers in the U.S. pay Monsanto a royalty of $8 an acre for the seeds in addition to the costs of the seeds, the group says.

``If you're stealing the technology, you don't have the pay the technology fee,'' said Peter Thornton, the Asia marketing manager for the group.

Falling Share of Exports

The U.S. share of world soybean exports fell to 43 percent last year from 60 percent in 1997 as competition increased from Argentina and Brazil, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

``The U.S., Brazil and Argentina are the only exporters,'' said Tim Hannagan, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. ``They are competing directly with us.'' Planting genetically engineered crops is supposed to make U.S. farmers more productive. Farmers need to weigh those benefits against the risks that they won't be able to sell their crops in Europe or parts of Asia.

U.S. soybean farmers' largest export market temporarily slammed shut in March 2002 when China tightened screening of genetically modified crops, causing a 19 percent slide in U.S. sales of soybeans to China last year.

China let imports resume in June as long as shipments had a U.S. safety certificate. The foods also are difficult to sell in Japan.

Disagreement in Brazil

``Japanese consumers just won't accept products with genetically modified ingredients,'' said Yoichi Takemoto, an official at the All Nippon Kashi Association, an industry group representing Japanese confectioners. ``They think there's something unsafe about them.'' Brazil's government is in disagreement over allowing genetically modified crops. President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, siding with Environment Minister Marina Silva, said in March the government will enforce the eight-year-old ban.

Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues nonetheless says genetically modified soybeans will probably account for about 10 percent of Brazil's exports this year. The government will let those crops be sold rather than pay the cost of compensating farmers for destroying the plants. Silva, a close friend of Lula's, has said she expects the 2004 soybean harvest to be ``clean.''

Many farmers are lobbying to end the ban so they can cut production costs, Rodrigues said. Brazil relies heavily on export revenue to pay its $300 billion debt.