Sealed lips keeps Monsanto in control
by Alan Guebert
Farm and Food File
Farm News, Fort Dodge, IA
July 13, 2001
"The Roush family is living a nightmare no farm family should have to live through," begins Gwen Roush's June 1 letter to an Indiana state representative. The letter explains how charges of patent infringement by Monsanto Co., the St. Louis biotech giant, against husband Ron and their farming sons Troy, Todd and Tony is causing her family to "fall apart."
"If this family had planted Roundup (sic) Ready soybeans without paying the tech fee I would be the first to pay our fine to give this family some peace, but we are not guilty," offers Gwen.
Troy, the family's pointman in the battle, acknowledges his mother's anxiety and repeats her plea: not guilty. "It's really hard on Mom because we've done nothing wrong. But that fact means nothing to Monsanto."
The Roush saga began in 1999 when Troy and his two brothers -not their father- grew 492 acres of Roundup Ready seed beans under contract for Precision Soya of Bluffton, IN. The sons and their father grew 1,328 acres of conventional beans in 1999, also, all from legally saved, 1998 production except for 75 bags of newly purchased conventional seed. In late summer, the family heard rumors that Monsanto was looking into their Roundup soybeans.
In September, 1999, Robert Swithers, an Indianapolis investigator hired by Monsanto outside attorneys, arrived at the Roush farm, to say "he wanted to get the stories stopped."
That same month, claims a source who asks not to be identified, a firm called Ag Sampling Services took nearly 80 plant samples from at least 16 soybean fields believed to be farmed by the Roushes. Despite being "in the middle of harvest and checking all our fields every day," Troy said no one in his family saw anyone in any of their soybean fields.
The sampling records, relates the source, allege that 15 of the 16 sampled fields contained Roundup soybeans. Cross-referencing with 1999 Roush planting and chemical records, though, shows only two of the fields were, in fact, planted with the sons' contracted Roundup soy-beans.
Troy's explanation of the massive discrepancy is simple: "The results are wrong - for any number of reasons. Wrong fields. Bad samples. Bad tests."
To confirm the Roushes had planted only the 492 Roundup acres, their attorney, David Lundy, asked a nearby Purdue University extension agent to review Roush's planting and chemical records. The agent was not paid. In a sworn deposition, the specialist backed up the family:
The Roushes did not purchase enough Roundup seed or Roundup herbicide to plant all the 1999 acres alleged to be Roundup.
But Monsanto kept coming. In May 2000, it filed a lawsuit in the Ft. Wayne, IN federal court which charged father and sons with two counts of Roundup technology patent infringement and one count of breach of contract.
The latter allegation is a stunner, said Troy, because it claims the Roundup beans "we supposedly planted illegally" violated the Monsanto Technology Agreements the Roushes signed. "But," said Troy. "none of us ever signed a Monsanto tech agreement."
As part of its lawsuit, however, Monsanto included photocopies of signed tech agreements dated Sept. 2, 1998. "Right," explained Troy, "but we have a sworn de- position, and Monsanto has it too, which states they were signed by the local co-op secretary, not us."
Still, Monsanto kept coming. More technicians were sent to Roush fields in 2000 to again test for unauthorized Roundup plantings. This time, though, the farmers were ready; they shadowed the samplers during the two-day collection. "We took identical samples, with GPS readings, bagged and tagged everything, and sent it all to Purdue," related Troy.
The soybean fields sampled in 2000, said a source familiar with the results, were planted with legally saved seed from the Roush's 1999 conventional soybean fields. All those 2000 samples showed no Roundup beans.
Curiously, those same fields - the fields the source says tested negative for Roundup in 2000 - were planted with saved seed from 1999 fields that had tested positive for Roundup.
"In 1999 they're Roundup and in 2000 they're not?" asked Troy "How's that happen?"
The family, noted Troy has spent $150,000 to defend itself against allegations he adamantly maintains are not true. "But we can't get Monsanto to the table or to court. They delay, delay, delay. We send them facts, records and depositions, they send us nothing."
Wanting to inoculate themselves from new charges of illegal Roundup use in 2001, then Roushes planted every soybean acre on their farm this year to Roundup beans. "It's our only defense," said Troy.