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Context of 'August 10, 2006: Judge Rules against USDA for Permitting Biotech Firms to Grow Experimental Drug-Producing Crops in Hawaii'

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Monsanto spends $8 billion acquiring, or establishing relationships with, several US and foreign seed companies. [Canadian Business, 10/8/1999; Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file] The list of companies includes: Calgene, Inc.; Asgrow Agronomics; Asgrow and Stine Seed; Agracetus; Holden’s Foundation Seeds, Inc.; Monsoy (a Brazilian soybean company); Cargill’s international seed divisions (with operations in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central and South America); Plant Breeding International; and DeKalb Genetics (the world’s second largest seed company). Pioneer Hi-Bred is the only major US seed company that Monsanto does not buy out. However, Pioneer has purchased rights from Monsanto to use technology relating to Roundup Ready soybeans and Bt corn. A 2005 report by the Center for Food Safety will say that one of the factors contributing to Monsanto’s cornering of the GM market (see 1998 and later) is its control of these seed companies. “[T]hese companies (often owned or indirectly controlled by Monsanto) had to agree that 90 percent of the sales of herbicide-tolerant soybeans would contain Monsanto’s patented technology. This requirement was later dropped to 70 percent after Monsanto came under scrutiny from government regulators. Through this sort of ownership and control of seed companies, Monsanto has been able to ensure that competition [will] remain small and that its patented genetically engineered crop varieties [will] be the ones most readily available to the American farmer.” [Center for Food Safety, 2005, pp. 9-10 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Calgene, Inc, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., Agracetus, Asgrow and Stine Seed, Asgrow Agronomics, Holden’s Foundation Seeds, Inc, Monsoy, Plant Breeding International, DeKalb Genetics, Cargill

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Foundation on Economic Trends (FOET) files a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto on behalf of a group of Iowa, Indiana, and French farmers. The suit alleges that Monsanto failed to ensure that its genetically modified seeds were safe for consumers and the environment before it brought them to market. It also claims that the company, which has bought out numerous seed companies in recent years (see 1996-1998), seeks to control world production of agriculture and food through the spread of its patented genes. “Through various anti-competitive practices, it seeks to control world production of agriculture and food, with particular concentration on power over seeds,” says Jeremy Rifkin, the foundation’s president. “What this means is that if the companies get their way, no farmer in the world will ever own a seed again. If that doesn’t hold implications for anti-trust law in the world of agriculture, then I don’t know what does.” [Reuters, 12/15/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Jeremy Rifkin, Foundation on Economic Trends

Timeline Tags: Seeds

Biotech giant Monsanto and drug maker Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. agree to merge. Together the two companies have a combined market value of about $52 billion. [New York Times, 12/20/1999] Shortly after the merger announcement, Monsanto says it has decided to drop its bid (see May 11, 1998) for Delta & Pine Land, the cotton seed company that shares a patent (see March 3, 1998) with the Department of Agriculture for terminator technology. [Reuters, 12/22/1999]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc, Delta & Pine Land Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) passes conference resolution 3/2001, approving the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, popularly known as the International Seed Treaty. The vote is almost unanimous with only two countries abstaining: the United States and Japan. [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 11/3/2001 pdf file; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] The treaty—under negotiation for seven years [Financial Times, 11/6/2001] —requires countries to share the genetic resources of all seed varieties from 35 food crops and 29 forage crops, officially designating them as part of the global commons. The seeds will be deposited in a network of seed banks for use by all member countries, free of charge, for research and experimental plant breeding. The treaty prohibits using the seeds for chemical or pharmaceutical research. Companies using the seed for commercial purposes are required to pay an equitable share of the resulting profits to a trust fund, which will finance efforts to improve the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources in developing countries. A multilateral system will be set up to facilitate countries’ access to the 64 selected crops. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Reuters, 11/5/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001; Food and Agriculture Organization, 6/29/2004] The treaty also affirms farmers’ rights “to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material, and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture… .” [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file] The US refusal to sign the treaty was based on its concern that the treaty does not do enough to respect intellectual property rights. Specifically, the US wanted “WTO rules on intellectual property rights [to] be applied without modification to the new treaty,” according to the Financial Times. It also wanted any references critical of intellectual property scrubbed from the text. But the Chair, Ambassador Fernando Gerbasi of Venezuela, would not permit it. The US, along with countries like Australia, expressed concerns during negotiation that there would be little incentive for biotech companies to invest in crop research if they were required to share their patented GM genes. [Australian, 10/31/2001; Financial Times, 11/6/2001] Additionally, the US wanted a provision in the treaty that would have allowed for germplasm embargos against Cuba or other “enemies” of “enduring freedom.” [ETC Group, 11/4/2001] The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 48th country ratifies it. [Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,, 11/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Australia, Japan, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Bush administration (43), United States

Timeline Tags: Seeds, Food Safety

Federal Judge J. Michael Seabright rules that the US Department of Agriculture violated both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed the cultivation of drug-producing GM crops in Hawaii. The court says the USDA acted in “utter disregard” of the two laws because it failed even to conduct preliminary investigations before granting approval for the growing of these crops. The Hawaii islands are home to 329 endangered and threatened species. Seabright’s ruling is the first court decision regarding plants that have been genetically modified to produce pharmaceutical drugs or industrial compounds. The case primarily concerned four permits that had been issued to Monsanto, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company, and the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center allowing them to grow drug-producing corn and sugarcane at various locations in Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Maui between 2001 and 2003. The plaintiffs in the case—Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Pesticide Action Network North America, and KAHEA (the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance)—also challenged the USDA’s practice of refusing to disclose the locations where experimental chemical-producing GM plants are being grown and what substances those plants are being developed to produce. [Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Mike Johanns, et al., 8/10/2006 pdf file; Center for Food Safety, 8/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, Center for Food Safety, Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, US Department of Agriculture, Monsanto, Pesticide Action Network North America, J. Michael Seabright, ProdiGene, Garst Seed Company

Timeline Tags: Seeds

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