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US Court tilts toward Monsanto in battle with farmer
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 19, 2013

Dustbin to dinner: ministers served binned food
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 19, 2013 - The green beans are fresh, the broccoli crunchy and the baby corn sweet, but having failed "cosmetic" tests of international supermarkets, the Kenyan-grown food was hurled out as waste.

On Tuesday however, vegetables considered too ugly for shop-shelves were served at a special dinner for some 100 global environment ministers and top-level delegations to highlight the "scandal" of large scale but entirely unnecessary food wastage.

The meal, held at the Nairobi-based UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), was organised by anti-food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart, who collected some 1,600 kilogrammes of unwanted fruit and vegetables in Kenya for the meal.

"No economic, environmental or ethical argument can be made to justify the extent of food waste," UNEP chief Achim Steiner told the dinner, where the previously binned food was served up by top chefs.

UNEP is campaigning to slash the current 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted each year as part of efforts to ease the environmental impact on an "already straining global food system".

Kenya is a key market for export of fresh vegetables to European supermarkets, especially to Britain.

But similar displays of the "disproportionate power of supermarkets" over farmers producing for export are found worldwide, Stuart said, showing images of rotting bananas in Ecuador, oranges in Florida or tomatoes in Tenerife.

"It is a huge scandal, but also a huge opportunity" for change, said Stuart, who said he was "genuinely shocked and distressed" at the amount of vegetables in Kenya rejected by supermarkets and thrown away.

Stuart criticised the "particularly pernicious practices" of international supermarkets with overly strict standards for appearance that will bin beans for being too long or not green enough.

Supermarkets also cancel orders after vegetables had been harvested, added Stuart, a British environmental campaigner who created the 'Feeding the 5,000' organisation to encourage cuts in food waste.

While some unwanted produce is sold on the local market or donated, so much is rejected that much is left to rot or fed to livestock, prompting resentment amongst Kenyan farmers hit with the lost revenue, he added.

And some producers sign contracts with supermarket chains that block them from selling unwanted food on local markets or even donating it to charities, with farmers allowed only to use the vegetables for animal feed.

"If it happens in Kenya, it is also happening elsewhere in Africa, in Asia and Latin America," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. "This could be just the tip of the iceberg."

One farmer supplying a British supermarket chain said he wasted up to 40 tonnes of vegetables every week, or 40% of his production, Stuart said.

Many of the vegetables are for international, not Kenyan or local tastes, meaning there is a limited market for crops such as baby corn.

But while ministers -- including top ministers from Europe -- may peer at their plates for curly carrots or peculiarly shaped parsnips, they will notice little different in their meal, Stuart said.

"There is no noticeable difference...it is unbelievable because for me it is indistinguishable," added Stuart.

"Supermarkets do not need to enforce such strict cosmetic standards."

Ministers were served a five course meal including grilled sweet corn, lentils with tamarind, and tiramisu made with mangoes.

The US Supreme Court appeared on Tuesday to side with Monsanto against an Indiana farmer accused of having pirated the genetically-modified crops developed by the agribusiness giant.

At stake is whether farmers can reproduce genetically-modified seeds on their own without paying for the technology again each growing season, which Monsanto says would stifle biotechnology innovation.

Critics counter that Monsanto is asserting ownership over a now nearly ubiquitous life form, which would allow it to share in the occasional profits of struggling farmers but insulate it from the risk they face.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, the 75-year-old soybean farmer at the center of the controversy, claims he acted in good faith and poses no threat to the multi-billion dollar genetically modified seed industry.

"I've done nothing wrong," Bowman said before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. "If I had done something wrong, no matter how big, they would have the right to come after me."

In a lawsuit filed in 2007, Monsanto accused Bowman of infringing on its intellectual property rights by replanting, cultivating and selling herbicide-resistant soybean seeds it spent more than a decade developing.

The patented seed, which allows farmers to aerially spray Monsanto-made Roundup herbicide over their entire fields, was invented in 1996 and is now grown by more than 90 percent of the 275,000 US soybean farmers.

Bowman claims to have respected his contract with Monsanto and purchased new Roundup Ready seeds each year for his first planting.

But he says hard times forced him to purchase a cheaper mixture of seeds from a grain elevator starting in 1999, which he used for his second planting.

The mixture included Roundup Ready soybeans, which Bowman was able to isolate and replant from 2000 to 2007.

Monsanto attorney Seth Waxman argued that Bowman was able to profit from the seed giant's technology without having to pay for it, comparing the case to software piracy.

"Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait, Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention, and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America," he argued.

"Having committed hundreds of millions of dollars in 13 years to develop this technology, in the very first sale of an article that practices the patent, it would have exhausted its rights in perpetuity."

Monsanto, which won earlier rulings in lower courts, appeared to have also convinced the nation's highest judicial body.

"Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked.

Justice Stephen Breyer, a more progressive jurist, appeared to agree.

"You know, there are certain things that the law prohibits. What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention. And that is what (Bowman) did," he said.

Bowman's attorney, Mark Walters, countered that extending Monsanto's rights to the less reliable grain elevator seed would allow it to profit from the crop without sharing the farmer's risk.

In Monsanto's legal reasoning, he said, "it doesn't matter how you come into possession with these seeds... Any cell division is patent infringement."

"So what they're essentially asking for is for the farmers to bear all the risks of farming, yet they can sit back and control how that property is used."

He added that the use of grain elevator seed by small-scale farmers like Bowman is "never going to be a threat to Monsanto's business."

After the hearing, Walters told reporters that Bowman -- from whom Monsanto has demanded $85,000 in damages -- is in dire economic straits.

But the attorney admitted that the court may rule according to the "impact of patterns of investment."

The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.


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Dustbin to dinner: ministers served binned food
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 19, 2013
The green beans are fresh, the broccoli crunchy and the baby corn sweet, but having failed "cosmetic" tests of international supermarkets, the Kenyan-grown food was hurled out as waste. On Tuesday however, vegetables considered too ugly for shop-shelves were served at a special dinner for some 100 global environment ministers and top-level delegations to highlight the "scandal" of large scal ... read more

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