Monsanto – A Legal Bully

A basic tenet of our American democracy is that where there is an injury there is a remedy as articulated in Marbury v. Madison, a landmark Supreme Court decision which established judicial review of executive decisions.  There, the court wrote:

The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws whenever he receives an injury.

That basic principle is continuously violated with the passage of laws that restrict people’s access to the courts, and more recently, in the passage of the “Monsanto Protection Act”.  The Act would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to override decisions by the court to enforce the Plant Protection Act, which sets forth mechanisms to regulate the introduction of genetically modified plants.  The Plant Protection Act is intended to protect farmers, the public and our environment.  In essence, the legislature decided to override the judicial review of genetically modified crops.

Not only is the restriction on judicial review troubling, but also it is disconcerting how this Act came into effect.  The provision was added in an appropriations bill – Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations At  2013, H.R. 933.

No debate.  No discussion.  No public comment.  Quietly, it was inserted into law through aggressive lobbying by Monsanto.

Thankfully, there has been organizing to repeal this provision.

Monsanto’s legislative push to override judicial review of the safety of their products is enraging when you see this legislative maneuver in the context of its aggressive litigation strategy to sue farmers.   While they want to be immune from regulations and lawsuits from the impact of their genetically modified plants, they aggressively use our courts to enforce their monopoly in agriculture.

Monsanto is quite simply a legal bully.  Farmers report being threatened with lawsuits for any possible patent infringements.  They have opposed labeling by organic dairy farmers because they believe labeling foods that are not made with GMO threaten Monsanto’s business.  The Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit working to curb harmful food production technologies and to support sustainable agriculture describes Monsanto business strategy as bizarre for aggressively suing its customer base – farmers.

In 2007, Monsanto sued Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman for an alleged patent infringement for a second planting of a seed he purchased.  While this case was being heard, the Monsanto Protection Act was passed.  In May 2013, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Monsanto holding that Bowman could not reproduce patented seeds through planting and harvesting, and then replanting those seeds.  Farmers were required to purchase new seeds each year.  Incredibly, the Supreme Court reasoned that if they were to allow a single farmer to replant a seed that it did purchase under a legal doctrine of patent exhaustion, then, Monsanto would be deprived of its monopoly.   Reading the Supreme Court support of a corporate giant’s monopoly was jarring and shows the openness to which Monsanto can act with impunity.  There was no mention of the antitrust laws that are in place to ensure fair competition for the benefit of consumers.

Using its lobbying and political muscle combined with its aggressive litigation strategy to assert its monopoly makes Monsanto a legal bully.

Instead of subjecting GMO to research, public review and debate, as is happening with gun control and immigration, here, the insertion of this provision in an appropriations bill is pernicious to our democracy.  Instead of protecting the public and its rights to have a judicial remedy where there is a wrong, the legislature handed Monsanto a blank check from judicial review.


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