In a landmark ruling by Brazil’s Court of Appeal, Bayer subsidiary Monsanto has defeated a class-action lawsuit brought by Brazilian farmers over the royalties Monsanto levies on farmers when they save seeds grown from one Monsanto crop for use in the next. With soybeans being Brazil’s most valuable export by far, the royalties in question are thought to amount to at least $7.7bn.
In a unanimous ruling, the court decided that where farmers plant and harvest Monsanto’s “Roundup ready” soybeans, which are a patented strain developed for use with Monsanto’s controversial herbicide “Roundup”, they cannot then replant the seeds from that crop for future harvests unless they pay a 3% sales royalty to Monsanto on those subsequent crops.
The ruling follows decisions in the US and Canadian courts which affirmed the patented status of Monsanto’s genetically engineered beans. Farmers in those countries must sign contracts that explicitly prevent the saving of seeds for future crops on the grounds that such use would constitute patent infringement. Monsanto has said that the Brazilian ruling will help promote “agricultural innovation” in the country.
Monsanto was founded in 1901 as a chemical company, but by the time of its acquisition by German life sciences giant Bayer in 2018 it was one of the world’s leading producers of genetically engineered crops. Its presence and activities in countries such as Brazil have long been controversial, where the competing interests of patent protection and agricultural innovation, on one hand, and the rights of farmers to manage their crops as they see fit, on the other, have often conflicted. This latest ruling will be seen by many in Brazil, and elsewhere, as being a further sign that the future of global agriculture seems to be held firmly in the grip of multinational patent holders.