Government will supervise testing of crops at grain terminals for Monsanto’s genes

The Argentine government has resolved a dispute over GM seeds that will permit biotech companies like Monsanto to receive royalties on crop genes, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The country’s National Seed Institute, a government agency, will supervise the testing of crops delivered by farmers to grain terminals, helping ensure that Monsanto gets paid for its patented genes, according to an agreement announced in Buenos Aires.

The WSJ explains that while farmers in other countries, like the US, generally pay such “technology fees” as part of price of a sack of seed, Argentine farmers could either pay such fees up front or when they delivered crops to grain elevators and exporters, where they were tested to see if they contained patented genes. Previously, Monsanto and grain exporters had jointly overseen such tests. Monsanto maintained that system was legal and necessary to make sure the company recouped its investment in seed research, particularly on soybeans, which can be saved and replanted year to year.

On one hand, Argentine citizens may be appalled that their government is acting as Monsanto’s policeman and tax collector.

But on the other hand, farmers may be relieved that the testing will be overseen by the government rather than Monsanto. Daniel Pelegrina, the vice president of Argentina’s Rural Society, the country’s leading farm group, is quoted by the WSJ as saying that he supports the government’s decision to oversee the testing of grain crops, rather than leave it in the hands of private companies.

That’s understandable as we’ve heard from Argentine sources that many farmers whose crop has been found by Monsanto tests to contain Monsanto’s GM genes do not believe the finding, especially in cases where the farmers have previously commissioned independent laboratories to test their crop and it has been found not to have any GMO content. But the farmers have paid Monsanto’s bills anyway, because they cannot afford to contest the charges in the courts.

Potentially the new deal could put an end to this problematic situation. But the government will have to ensure that its testing and reporting procedures remain pure and beyond reproach.