Opportunity in Glyphosate Resistant Volunteers
DAVID DECHANT / CropChoice 15jan03
(Part 1 below)
(CropChoice guest commentary) -- In August of 2001, I wrote a CropChoice article about Monsantoís patenting of the practice of mixing other herbicides with glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup herbicide) in order to control volunteer Roundup Ready corn in fields of Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as other RR volunteers in other RR crops as Monsanto gets more of them commercialized (link to original piece available following this commentary). This patent, US PTO #6,239,072, also covers any premixes of glyphosate with those other herbicides. Since Monsanto now has begun to reference this patent, among the dozens of others, in its new 2003 tech agreement, I decided to write a sequel.
Monsantoís patent on glyphosate molecule itself expired in September of 2000. So, both the price and the quantity of glyphosate that Monsanto sells have decreased, which is a big factor in its reported $1.7 billion loss last year. In a desperate attempt to regain some sales and exert whatever control it can over glyphosate market, the new tech agreement, which farmers must sign if they want to plant any of Monsantoís GMOs, reads as follows:
"You receive a limited use license to prepare and apply on glyphosate tolerant soybean, cotton, or canola crops (or have others prepare and apply) tank mixes of, or sequentially apply (or have others sequentially apply) Roundup or other glyphosate herbicides labeled for use on those crops with quizalofop, clethodim, sethoxydim, fluazifop and/or fenoxiprop to control volunteer Roundup Ready corn in grower's crops for the 2003 growing season. However, neither grower nor a third party may utilize any type of co-pack or premix of glyphosate plus one or more of the above-identified active ingredients in the preparation of a tank mix."
Itís sure strange that, all of a sudden, farmers and custom applicators now have to get a license from Monsanto to take care of a problem it caused in the first place: volunteer RR corn in field of RR soybeans or other RR crops! Theyíve been doing so ever since RR corn was first commercialized, before Monsanto applied for the patent in March of 1999. Furthermore, itís strange that the US Patent Office would even consider granting Monsanto the tank mix patent, as patents are supposed to be for novel inventions. There is nothing novel or inventive about mixing herbicides.
So, what does this patent really mean for farmers, being that Monsanto is trying to make it look like it is giving them something of value and so far, apparently, not charging them anything to license it?
For one, it precludes other chemical companies from selling to farmers any commercial premixes of glyphosate with the grass specific post emergence herbicides the patent mentions, even as those other herbicides begin to go off patent in a few years. Consequently, if other chemical companies could sell them at a better price than Monsanto, they wonít because if farmers cannot apply such premixes, they wonít bother selling them.
Two, one must think ahead to the day when Monsantoís patent on the RR gene expires. Itís not enough that, in 1995, Congress extended patent terms to 20 years from 17 in order to satisfy the WTO. Monsanto wants control for an even longer term. As such, if other seed companies gain free access to the RR gene upon the expiration of its patent, or even if farmers are then free to save seed, Monsanto can still come after them for spraying glyphosate mixed with other chemicals to control volunteer RR plants, as that patent would expire later.
Last, a major concession other countries must make upon negotiating free trade agreements with the US is that they will provide greater protection for US Intellectual Property Rights. And what do these other countries get in return? They get greater market access, especially in those markets where traditional American industry supplies or used to supply most of the goods. This includes markets for meat, dairy products, fruit, and so on. And, itís a real shame that so many workers in the US have been and are getting sold out so that Hollywood can earn a few more royalties, or that software tycoons can do the same, or that the Drug/Biotech/Chemical companies can impose higher prices on citizens of other countries by making them comply with patents granted by an out-of-control and inept US Patent and Trademark Office.
source: http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?RecID=1299 17jan03
- Monsanto 2003 Tech Contract
- Monsanto sees opportunity in glyphosate resistant volunteers, part I: (Below)
Monsanto Sees Opportunity in Glyphosate Resistant Volunteer Weeds
DAVID DECHANT / CropChoice 3aug01
(CropChoice opinion) -- While some see the unwanted presence of glyphosate resistant volunteer corn plants in a field of RR soybeans (Roundup Ready, resistant to glyphosate) as a problem inherent with relying on the RR system two or more years in a row, Monsanto sees opportunity: just get a patent on the practice of mixing with glyphosate other herbicides having a different mode of action, and on the premixtures thereof!
Never mind the fact that there is nothing novel about the practice of mixing herbicides with different modes of action, as this has been done as long as there have been herbicides. Never mind that nearly any farmer could figure out on his own which herbicides to mix. That doesn't matter to the US Patent Office, as Monsanto is now the proud owner of US Patent no.6,239,072.
The abstract of the two-month-old patent reads as such:
"The present invention is directed to tank mixtures and premixtures of a glyphosate herbicide and a second herbicide to which a first species is susceptible and a second species is resistant. Such tank mixtures and premixtures allow control of glyphosate-susceptible weeds and glyphosate-tolerant volunteer individuals of the first species in a crop of glyphosate-tolerant second species with a single application of herbicide."
This sure flies in the face of the argument that RR crops require only glyphosate or less herbicide for weed control. Because of the presence of weedy glyphosate tolerant corn volunteers, farmers now routinely apply a second herbicide when they are present in a field of RR soybeans. In fact, many times farmers now have do so even if the previous corn crop was not RR, because of cross-pollination from nearby fields of such corn.
In some cases, Monsanto even chips in for the second herbicide, especially when the farmer grows RR corn. Now, it appears Monsanto wants to prevent anyone from mixing on their own the following herbicides with glyphosate, as well as to corner the market for premixtures containing them: Assure, Poast, Fusilade, Select, Pursuit, and Raptor, their generic equivalents, and other non-glyphosate herbicides. It also looks like Monsanto intends the same for controlling glyphosate resistant volunteer wheat and rice plants, too, when they are present in fields of RR soybeans, canola, sugarbeets, or cotton.
Reading the patent description further, the scope of the "invention" broadens:
"Therefore, the scope of the present invention reasonably covers the presently-known glyphosate-tolerant corn, cotton, soybean, wheat, canola, sugarbeet, rice, and lettuce, and any glyphosate-tolerant crop species that may be developed. Also, although the development of glyphosate-tolerant plants by use of conventional breeding without recombinant DNA techniques is currently believed to be highly unlikely, if any such naturally glyphosate-tolerant plants are developed they would fall within the scope of the current invention."
This patent even covers glyphosate resistant crops that don't exist yet and maybe never will!
Reading still further, one finds examples of more combinations of glyphosate volunteer plants that can be controlled in glyphosate resistant crops, as sorghum and peanuts are added to the mix. One can't help but wonder if that includes everything!
At any rate, Monsanto does admit that there could be one limitation to modifying crops to be tolerant to glyphosate: the presence of glyphosate tolerant weeds other than those from tolerant volunteer crop species. But it downplays this, saying "No uncultivated species of weed has been observed to naturally develop glyphosate-tolerance, and the flow of genes for glyphosate tolerance from crop plants to related wild species is not expected to occur."
Perhaps the authors of the patent never saw the numerous reports, a few here on CropChoice, about weeds in certain areas exhibiting an increased tolerance to glyphosate applications. And while there may be no cases of glyphosate tolerant genes jumping from RR crops into weeds, http://www.weedscience.org (search for glycines) reports that there already are resistant types of ryegrass, goosegrass, and horseweed in different parts of the world.
Finally, this absurd patent, which reads more like a scam than a description of an invention, shows just how desperate Monsanto is to hang on to its near monopoly in glyphosate, its cash cow for well over a decade.
Monsanto's patent on glyphosate expired last September. However, farmers in the US still pay twice as much for glyphosate as do their competitors elsewhere in the world. That's because all generic startups either have to develop from scratch the required EPA registration data, which takes a long time and a lot of money, or go to the original registrant, Monsanto in this case, and get a license to use its registration data. Of course, they pay dearly for this, with the result they have to overcharge for a long time to pay off the licensing fee.
But someday, the generic competition will become more aggressive. So if Monsanto can no longer monopolize the glyphosate molecule itself, there's nothing better than trying to monopolize the uses of glyphosate and the premixtures, as well as the fix to a problem it caused in the first place, i.e., resistant volunteers. Last of all, thanks to the inept US Patent and Trademark Office for facilitating this scheme, as well as countless others.
Source: Search on patent US patent #6,239,072 at http://www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html
David Dechant grows wheat, corn and alfalfa in Colorado
source: http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=390 17jan03
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