Last month, a “David vs. Goliath” case was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The “David” in the case is Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old farmer from Indiana. The “Goliath” is the mighty Monsanto Company.
Monsanto is an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that has its headquarters in Creve Coeur, Missouri. At one time, it was one of the top chemical companies in the United States. You may have heard of some of the controversial chemical compounds used in products it manufactured: Agent Orange, PCBs, and the insecticide DDT. Monsanto sold off its chemical operations in the late 1990s so it could focus on agricultural biotechnology.
One of Monsanto’s most popular products is its genetically modified seeds, which are known as Roundup Ready seeds. These seeds were specifically designed by Monsanto to survive applications of “Roundup,” the company’s number one-selling weed killer. The use of Roundup Ready seeds enables farmers to kill weeds with Roundup without harming the crops.
Roundup Ready seeds have become so popular that they now account for approximately 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
In order to purchase and use Roundup Ready seeds, farmers are required to sign a contract that prohibits them from saving and replanting seeds from the resulting crop. Since the offspring of the Roundup Ready seeds contain the same genetically engineered trait as the original seeds, farmers are not allowed to save and replant the second-generation seeds. If farmers wish to benefit from the genetically modified seeds, they are required to buy new seeds from Monsanto for each new planting season.
Since the invention of Roundup Ready seeds, Monsanto has sued farmers on 146 different occasions for violating the terms of the contracts they signed. The cases have involved farmers in 27 states. Of the 146 cases, Monsanto has settled 135 in its favor and won the 11 cases that went to trial.
The Washington-based Center for Food Safety, which tracks lawsuits filed by Monsanto, has indicated that in the cases that went to trial, Monsanto was awarded a total of $23.5 million. In addition, Monsanto has received hundreds of millions of dollars more from out-of-court settlements.
The case against Vernon Bowman is different than the typical breach-of-contract cases that have previously been filed by Monsanto. Bowman routinely signed contracts with Monsanto and used its Roundup Ready seeds on his small 300-acre farm, and he always complied with the requirement not to save and replant seeds from the resulting crop.
However, in 1999, instead of buying soybean seeds from Monsanto, Bowman purchased commodity beans from a local grain elevator – beans that had been sold to the elevator by other farmers. Bowman figured that the commodity beans would be Roundup Ready. He was right. He was able to plant the seeds and use Roundup to kill weeds without harming the plants.
When Monsanto learned that Bowman planted second-generation beans purchased from a local grain elevator, it filed a lawsuit against him. Since Bowman had not signed a contract with Monsanto for the beans he bought from the grain elevator, Monsanto sued him for violating a patent it had obtained after the genetically modified seeds were invented.
At the trial, a federal district court judge in Indiana ruled in Monsanto’s favor and Bowman was ordered to pay more than $30,000 in damages. With costs and interest, that amount has grown to $84,456. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the appellate court affirmed the ruling of the district court.
On February 18, 2013, lawyers for Bowman and Monsanto argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the questions Chief Justice John Roberts asked Bowman’s lawyers was, “Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?” Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the justices who in the past has been skeptical of broad patent rights, commented to Bowman’s lawyers that under current patent law “you cannot make copies of a patented invention.”
Although the Supreme Court has not yet handed down a ruling in the case, it is anticipated that the court will rule in Monsanto’s favor, and Vernon Bowman will be forced to turn over $84,456 to Monsanto. If he refuses to pay, Monsanto will have the legal right to force a sale of his farm to pay off the outstanding debt.
In hindsight, Vernon Bowman didn’t have a chance. He should have known better than to pick a fight with Monsanto, a multinational corporation that had previously shown that it was willing to use its vast power and resources to crush farmers who dared to replant seeds harvested from plants that had been grown from Roundup Ready seeds.
This week we’re going to recall in vivid detail the brutal torture and murder of the Son of God. On that dark Friday afternoon over 2,000 years ago, after He died on the cross, His followers lost all hope. In hindsight, they knew that He didn’t have a chance of prevailing against the vast power and resources of the Goliath that had been created from the combined forces of the scribes, Pharisees, and government officials.
There are, at times, situations that come up in our own lives that cause us to lose hope. In those situations, we feel as though we are up against a Goliath that has the power to crush us. That Goliath can be a corrupt and evil government, a multinational corporation, a ruthless employer, a malicious individual, a debilitating disease, a terminal medical condition, the sudden loss of a loved one, a financial crisis, or an uncertain future.
Regardless of what it is that tempts us to give up hope, we know from history that on that third day after Hope was crucified, He triumphantly rose from the dead and opened the gates of heaven for each and every one of His followers. He then made an eternal promise that He would always be with us.
There is no event or situation that should ever discourage or worry us to the point where we lose hope. We have the power to conquer any Goliath that threatens us. Where does that power come from? It comes from our faith in the God-man who came to Earth and allowed Himself to be crucified on a cross so He could gain salvation for each and every one of us.