Natural Law: Farming and Litigation in the Age of GMO Plants

 Natural Law: Farming and Litigation in the Age of GMO Plants

Not since Green AcresOliver Wendell Douglas has anyone mistaken a farmer for a lawyer.

But ever since agribusiness companies began patenting seeds, lawyers have rediscovered the richness of rural living. The boll weevil-like barristers haven’t arrived to plant seeds and watch them shoot up toward the sky; their mission is to find unauthorized genetically-modified organism (GMO) seeds rising from the soil and claim patent infringement.

A few errant seeds, lifted by an unlucky gust from a neighboring farm, could yield injunctions, fees, foreclosure, and bankruptcy. In the U.S., one such case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Biotech giant Monsanto claimed ownership of its genetic seed creations in perpetuity. Monsanto won, planting the seeds of fear on many family farms.

But there’s more to the story than patent infringement, says Canadian lawyer Stephen Gleave, whose legal skill is matched only by his passion for nature, organic farming and pure food.

Stephen Gleave explains that on the surface, you would think that the main threat to an organic farm would be this inadvertent drift of GMO seeds onto their fields, where contamination of natural seed varieties could easily occur.

But with the monopolization of the North American seed market by a concentration of conglomerates, the available pool of pure organic seeds has been steadily shrinking. That means that some organic farmers find themselves with no other choice than to use conventional seeds. As astonishing as it may seem, this practice is actually allowed by regulators and organic-certifying organizations.

Consequently, the supply of diverse, natural seed varieties can dry up quickly. They can also dry up when agribusiness companies who own the “rights” to certain seeds simply pull them from the market. As Stephen Gleave explains, for these companies, it can be more profitable to gene-edit new seeds rather than create hybrids like the methods of Gregor Mendel.

As giant multinationals lose interest in seeds for unique crop varieties and smaller markets, many farmers, chefs and environmental organizations are attempting to fill the gap. They are determined to conserve nature’s original designs, creating new organic hybrids and sharing seeds freely. This brave counterinsurgency — literally a grassroots movement — has plenty of room to grow. After all, not every consumer wants to choose from a mass-market menu of easily transported, highly profitable but mostly bland food choices.

Nature never put a patent on its own rich flavors and nutrients, nor retained any white-shoe law firm to force a turnip into a noncompete agreement. But as she proves every day, nature will win every final argument; for while the giant seed merchants can tell you how many seeds are in one of their genetically-modified apples, only nature and her Creator know how many apples are in a seed.

Robert Desauza