When the history of modern Brazil comes to be written, a special place will be reserved for the soybean, the powerful farmers that grow it — and the deforestation it is driving. And at the center of that tale will be Monsanto, with its patented “Roundup Ready” crop, so called because it has been genetically modified to withstand the herbicide glyphosate, marketed as Roundup.
A recent news story in Nature sketches the twists and turns of that fascinating tale. For example, how the growing of GM soybeans was only legalized in 2005 when it turned out that three-quarters of the crops growing in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul were already using Monsanto’s GM soybeans. Apparently, these had been smuggled in from Argentina. Monsanto claims that many soybeans still are, and uses this as a justification to impose an unusual levy on Brazilian soybean farmers:
Since the legalization, Monsanto has charged Brazilian farmers 2% of their sales of Roundup Ready soya beans, which now account for an estimated 85% of the nation’s soya-bean crop. The company also tests Brazilian soya beans that are sold as non-GM — if they turn out to be Roundup Ready, the company charges the farmers responsible for the crops some 3% of their sales.
One way soybeans sold as non-GM can turn out to be the Roundup Ready variety is thanks to wind-borne GM pollen landing on non-GM crops. And yet instead of being penalized for contaminating non-GM crops, Monsanto gets paid for it — a neat trick made possible by a crazy patent system in which even those who commit infringement unintentionally are still held liable…