As David versus Goliath battles go it is hard to imagine a more uneven fight than the one about to play out in front of the US supreme courtbetween Vernon Hugh Bowman and Monsanto.
On the one side is Bowman, a single 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer who is still tending the same acres of land as his father before him in rural south-western Indiana. On the other is a gigantic multibillion dollar agricultural business famed for its zealous protection of its commercial rights.
Not that Bowman sees it that way. “I really don’t consider it as David and Goliath. I don’t think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong,” Bowman told The Guardian in an interview.
Either way, in the next few weeks Bowman and Monsanto’s opposing legal teams will face off in front of America’s most powerful legal body, weighing in on a case that deals with one of the most fundamental questions of modern industrial farming: who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground.
The legal saga revolves around Monsanto’s aggressive protection of its soybean known as Roundup Ready, which have been genetically engineered to be resistant to its Roundup herbicide or its generic equivalents. When Bowman – or thousands of other farmers just like him – plant Monsanto’s seeds in the ground they are obliged to only harvest the resulting crop, not keep any of it back for planting the next year. So each season, the farmer has to buy new Monsanto seeds to plant.
However, farmers are able to buy excess soybeans from local grain elevators, many of which are likely to be Roundup Ready due to the huge dominance Monsanto has in the market. Indeed in Indiana it is believed more than 90% of soybeans for sale as “commodity seeds” could be such beans, each containing the genes Monsanto developed.