Free Trade and the Deregulation of Genetically Modified Foods

In a ruling that favors free trade and rejects certain harsh controls over biotechnology patents, a European court has dismissed Monsanto's lawsuit that attempted to block the import of genetically modified (GM) soybeans from Argentina, where the company doesn't enjoy a government-protected monopoly over its product. The court said that patent protections do not apply to seeds once they have been harvested. According to The Wall Street Journal:

The European Court of Justice Tuesday ruled that European Union patent law can't be used to bar imports of products made from biotech ingredients that are patented in the EU but not in the exporting country.

The decision could open the door for increased exports to the EU by producers of biotech products in emerging-market countries that have weaker patent protection.…

Monsanto Co., the St. Louis-based company that is the world's biggest seed maker, owns the patent for the DNA sequence incorporated into this type of soybean seeds, called Roundup Ready. This genetic modification allows farmers to protect soybean crops from weeds by spraying glyphosate without destroying the crop itself.

After Monsanto failed to earn patent protection in Argentina for its genetically modified Roundup Ready soybean, it ceased selling the seeds there. However, farmers continued to use the seeds produced every year from their crops, without paying the royalties Monsanto says it is due.

Monsanto went on the offensive by taking its complaint to the EU. In 2005, Monsanto attempted to stop imports of soy meal made with its soybeans by suing importers in a court in the Netherlands. The Dutch court referred the case to the ECJ.

Meanwhile, the BBC is running an op-ed calling for deregulation of the GM foods industry:

But monopoly is bad for everyone. Here's a part solution; deregulate GM.

If it costs more than $20m (£13m) to get regulatory approval for one transgene, lots of little GM-based solutions to lots of problems will be too expensive and therefore not deployed, and the public sector and small start-up companies will not make the contribution they could.

Never before has such excessive regulation been created in response to (still) purely hypothetical risks.

The cost of this regulation—demanded by green campaigners—has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.

The EU parliament also rejected a proposal to require labels on products made from animals that were given GM feed. While this might all sound like good news, Europeans still seem to have a thing for banning foods that they see as being produced using too much human intervention. The EU recently upheld a ban on foods produced from cloned animals.

You can read more on GM foods from Reason's Ronald Bailey.

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  • The Ghost of Mr. Blackwell||

    OMG! Darling, is that a genetically-modified dress?

  • Greg||

    Who else wanted to get a bigger version of the picture to see the hot hippie chick?

  • ||

    1st thing I did was save pic and the expand in viewer - nice looking mamacita

  • PantsFan||

    could that be Organic Girl?

  • AA||

    +1

  • ||

    Organic Girl has white-person dreads. She mentioned it.

  • TallDave||

    Wild plants exchange genes all the time. Someone should sue them.

  • RobD.||

    However plants and animal don't and the genes have to be naturals accepted. This process is completely invasive.

  • Suki||

    "Genetically Modified Foods" is an almost meaningless term. Most anything we eat has been "genetically modified" by humans using one technique or another. Sweet corn is a frequently used example. Want more exotic? Dog is another example.

    Patented food sounds more appropriate.

  • RobD.||

    Once again their is a giant difference between introducing two people to each other that form a liking and eventually a union and then a date rape.

  • Just Sayin'||

    Nice melons.

  • H&R||

    That is our plan.

  • ¢||

    I'm ashamed that I noticed this, but in the non-chick portions of the picture up there, there's, like, no food.

    I was living on coke and beer when I went through Europe, so I didn't go in any grocery stores. Are they typically that post-apocalyptic?

  • Zeb||

    I see plenty of food there. And I am not sure why you assume it is in Europe.
    All of the supermarkets I have been to in Europe are well stocked with quality items. Adequate and diverse supplies of food are not one of their deficiencies over there.

  • ||

    is the monsanto part really about favoring free trade? it seems to be more about failing to recognize patents. we can argue about whether or not granting patents on seeds are socially and economically desirable, but given that they're around, shouldn't they be enforced? maybe i'm misunderstanding the circumstances here, but i don't see what it has to do with free trade.

  • tarran||

    Patents of monopoly are implemented by restricting free trade & violating physical property rights.

    Patents of monopoly are fundamentally incompatible with free markets.

  • ||

    You can't have free markets without private property and that includes intellectual property. Patents are every bit as much a man's castle as his home.

  • Pedant||

    ...and that includes intellectual property.

    Show your work.

  • tarran||

    and that includes intellectual property

    Sigh.

    Here we go again: property rights are essentially the assignment of who morally is supposed to control something.

    In the case of physical property, say a chair, where only one person can control it at a time (we both can't sit on the chair, or one of us can't sit on the chair while the other one of us chops it up for firewood etc), this reduces conflict in a society.

    Now, let us turn to patents of monopoly, there, the thinking is that if I invent a plow, someone else who takes materials he owns and fashions them into a low like mine has somehow harmed me. Yet, what is the harm? They haven't deprived me of a plow. They might sell the plow, and as such attract custoemrs who might otherwise buy one of my plows, but that is not a harm - anymore than if he invents a slightly different plow that isn't 'my' idea and sells it instead.

    You can't own ideas. They are not economically scarce or rivalrous. To assert a patent of monopoly, I have to egress against the other guy by depriving him of the physical access to the property he used to make the plow.

    Here is a good summary

  • AA||

    Great points on all. Just read something similar in the 1st chapter of Mises' Socialism.

  • ||

    tarran|7.7.10 @ 9:11PM|#
    "Now, let us turn to patents of monopoly, there, the thinking is that if I invent a plow, someone else who takes materials he owns and fashions them into a low like mine has somehow harmed me. Yet, what is the harm? They haven't deprived me of a plow."
    True.
    If, they decide to market what they have copied, they have deprived you of the profit accruing to your invention.
    AFAIK, no patents allow litigation to someone copying that patent for personal use.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    "no patents allow litigation to someone copying that patent for personal use."

    Not true. You can make a copy for experimental or research use, but for actual use/enjoyment/whatever, you are still theoretically infringing. As a practical matter, it's generally not worth litigating, but it IS infringement.

  • ||

    "if they decide to market what they have copied, they have deprived you of the profit accruing to your invention."

    I'll entertain the argument that you are entitled to the profit from your ideas as soon as you agree to reimburse me for the losses from your ideas.

  • Old Man With Candy||

    You leave out the part about the time restrictions to the "monopoly."

  • ||

    If people are morally entitled to control their ideas, then why would there be a time limit?

  • Old Man With Candy||

    Who said anything about morally? Read Adam Smith.

  • ||

    "Who said anything about morally?"

    Do you see how all of these comments are indented? Look up to Tarran at 7.7.10 @ 9:11PM, first sentence after the sigh.

    Also, which Adam Smith book talks about not having morality? Is it The Theory of Moral Sentiments?

  • New World Dan||

    They're morally entitled to be compensated for the effort of developing their ideas. Small, but important difference.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    You can have free markets without private property. So there must be a flaw in your logic. Oh wait, there wasn't any logic. Just an obviously false statement.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    hah. crap. fail. bitten by my own snark.

    intellectual property, not private property.

  • cynical||

    That's not clear at all -- Monsanto sold seeds. A seed is an object which produces more seeds as a part of its intended function, without the need for some sort of circumvention procedure like DRM breaking. If anyone violated Monsanto's patent, it was Monsanto. The farmers are just using their product in a reasonable way.

    Also, gene patents are bullshit, so there's that. At best, I could allow for someone patenting the process of adding a gene into an organism where it didn't occur naturally in order to achieve some medical or agricultural result. However, in this case the gene occurred naturally (that is, through standard reproductive genetic propagation) in the seeds produced by the original batch of plants, so that's a whole different ballgame. You don't get to patent natural processes.

  • Jesse Kline||

    is the monsanto part really about favoring free trade? it seems to be more about failing to recognize patents. we can argue about whether or not granting patents on seeds are socially and economically desirable, but given that they're around, shouldn't they be enforced? maybe i'm misunderstanding the circumstances here, but i don't see what it has to do with free trade.

    The story definitely is about patents. The question is whether it's right to grant a government protected monopoly on a biological organism and allow the owner to extract rents year after year. I would say no.

    The point is that the company was trying to use their EU patent to limit trade with a country in which they did not hold a patent. In this regard, the ruling is a win for free trade.

    You should also realize that they were not trying to block the import of the seeds that they had created. The product coming in was fully grown soybeans. Do you think they still have a right to the product once it is in a completely different form, one which took the labor and capital of local farmers in order to produce?

  • ||

    Well, that pic certainly gets my nomination for Lamest. Alt-text. EVAR!

    C'mon, Jesse, get Matt to show you how its done.

    What a quandary for the Euros. They could either side with Evil Monsanto, or with Evil GM food.

  • ||

    Lamest? Please, dude, check any of Bailey's pics. It's a race to the bottom.

  • Ted S.||

    I normally only surf with cached images, so I see the alt-text by default instead of the images. As soon as I saw the alt-text here, I wondered how long it would take in the comments before somebody bitched about it. ;-)

    I'm not certain whether yours is the first, or whether the very first comment is ragging on the alt-text.

  • mr simple||

    Seriously, I had to come in here to complain. Come on, Jesse, couldn't you come up with something as ewasy as "How do you like them apples?" or "Check out these melons" or something. This alt-text is just insulting. I know it's a woman shopping for produce, I don't need you to tell me.

  • Jesse Kline||

    C'mon, Jesse, get Matt to show you how its done.

    If you were to check the source, you would see that the img tag does include an alt description. My question is why you care. Alt text is useful for people using a screen reader, who cannot see the image. The fact that the image has very little to do with the story, makes me think that it doesn't really matter either way.

  • Idiocracy||

    Some people like a little cleverness with their morning read.

  • Adonisus||

    I love it when hippies weep.

  • ||

    Now that it's anti-corporate, is it going to be cool to be pro-GMO?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I've often found it "curious" how leftists bow to teh science when it comes to AGW, but decry it for GMF and claim it all to be false.

  • ||

    It's consistent from an anti-technology standpoint.

    Science is good when it shows we are destroying the planet. Bad when it shows we're not (because we clearly are! So it must be a corporate plot to conceal the evidence!)

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    It makes sense when you realize that Environmentalist Religion is based on a reincarnated form of the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.

    Man is evil by nature. Only Mother Nature Gaia-god, her very own self, is good by nature.

    The only thing Environmentalism is missing is the sacrificial Jesus part. Neither Mother Earth nor Al Gore has forgiven us our sins, so perish we must.

    It's amusing that liberal "progressive" Democrats hate Christians with a ferocity second to none. Yet their Environmental religion borrows central tenants from Christianity.

    I suppose it must be something along the lines of Darwinian theory which says that in Nature your worst enemy, is that which is most like you.

  • Zeb||

    Um, I know quite a few liberal progressive Democrats who are Christians. There are whole churches full of them.

  • ||

    "The only thing Environmentalism is missing is the sacrificial Jesus part."

    Each one of us is the sacrificial Jesus.

  • ||

    It is sort of a return to the pagan concept of vengeful capricious gods who must be appeased by sacrifices. Gaia's a wrathful bitch, much like Zeus was a serial rapist.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    You can buy indulgences though. They are called "carbon offsets" or something like that. Its what allows Al Gore to fly around in a jet all over the world and own big air condintioned mansions while still lecturing us proles on our carbon footprint.

  • Jesse Kline||

    I've often found it "curious" how leftists bow to teh science when it comes to AGW, but decry it for GMF and claim it all to be false.

    It's the same lefty hypocrisy that wants to put an end to GHG producing coal fired power plants, but also hates nuclear power, which does not produce any GHGs.

  • Virginia||

    Monsanto will just use their lobbyists to buy off American politicians to push our State Dept to payout a multi-billion $$$ "grant" to Argentina in exchange for intellectual property rights of their liking.

    duh.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    Are these ridiculous Monsanto patents going to at least expire soon?

    Or have they already been submarined into effective 50 year patents, via lawyer magic? Anybody know?

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