Professional seed cleaners who work with farmers have had to change the way they do business since patented genetically modified seeds have entered the market. “In the early 1980s, we processed a lot more soybeans,” says Parker. “Back then, only conventional soybeans were produced. Now, most soybeans are Roundup-ready, and seed processors cannot process Roundup-ready beans. The soy business has decreased dramatically, but everything else has grown.”
Parr entered the seed cleaning business in 1983. “In my part of the Midwest, the main crop that’s cleaned is soy. As soon as Monsanto introduced their GM soy, my business started to decrease.” Parr says that when Monsanto introduced Roundup-ready soybean, the company required farmers who wanted to purchase it sign a user agreement relinquishing the right to save their own seed.
“I’m not what you would call a huge force,” says Parr, who used to clean approximately 200,000 bushels of seed a year. He never asked his customers whether they were having him clean GM soy, but he now suspects that some may have been bringing him the patented material.
A few years ago, Monsanto sued Parr, alleging that he had cleaned their Roundup-ready soy. Since then, he has lost about 90 percent of his business.
The lawsuit against Parr dramatically changed the way he does business. The judge instructed him to modify his methods or pay $40,000 to Monsanto. Per court order, Parr’s machine now bears a sign that says, “Do not ask me to clean Roundup-ready seed. All varieties of Roundup-ready seed are patented. Replanting is illegal.” He must also have each farmer sign a paper saying their seed is not Roundup-ready. Finally, he must take a sample of every load of soybeans he cleans to the state seed commissioner and chemist’s office at Purdue University. After the chemists test the seed they send the sample to Monsanto to prove it is not Roundup-ready.
Parr intends to remain in the seed cleaning and processing business. “I am going to do everything I can to stay within the law, but I am going to do everything I can to convince farmers to get off this bandwagon, because they are being enslaved and going back into serfdom,” he asserts. Since the lawsuit, reports have surfaced about other lawsuits and injunctions against seed cleaners suspected of processing GM seed.
In Alabama, Ronnie Parker is keenly aware that helping farmers save GM seed is dangerous business. In the last few years, he has turned away dozens of farmers who approached him with genetically modified soybeans. “The farmer could be sued and the seed processor could be sued. I won’t fool with it; it’s not worth the risk.”
While soy is perhaps the most notable GM crop currently, researchers are working to develop an assortment of GM vegetables. Thus far, the corporations developing GM seeds have patented each as intellectual property, which negates a farmer’s right to save those seeds.