4-Patents: U.S. farmer who lied in dispute with Monsanto will go toprison
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TITLE: Farmer who lied in dispute with Monsanto will go to prison
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, USA, by Peter Shinkle
DATE: May 7, 2003
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Farmer who lied in dispute with Monsanto will go to prison
A farmer opposed to Monsanto Co.'s genetic seed licensing practices was
sentenced Wednesday in federal court at St. Louis to eight months in
prison for lying about a truckload of cotton seed he hid for a friend.
Kem Ralph, 47, of Covington, Tenn., also admitted burning a truckload of
seed, in defiance of a court order, to keep Monsanto from using it as
evidence in a lawsuit against him.
The prison term for conspiracy to commit fraud is believed to be the
first criminal prosecution linked to Monsanto's crackdown on farmers it
claims are violating agreements on use of the genetically modified seeds.
Ralph pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Feb. 21 of lying in a
sworn statement in the civil case.
At issue is seed-saving, the age-old agricultural practice of keeping
seed from one crop to plant another. Monsanto's licensing agreement
forbids it, a policy that has drawn bitter opposition from some farmers.
In court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Webber ordered Ralph to
serve the prison time and to repay Monsanto $165,649 for about 41 tons of
genetically engineered cotton and soybean seed he was found to have saved
in violation of the agreement.
Monsanto says it has filed 73 civil lawsuits against farmers in the past
five years over this issue.
Officials of the company, based in Creve Coeur, hoped that Ralph's case
would send a stern message. Monsanto has distributed information about it
and about the civil litigation as a warning.
Before Ralph's sentencing Wednesday, a Monsanto official told Judge
Webber that other farmers would closely watch the outcome.
"Their behavior will be set according to the results here today," said
Scott Baucum, an intellectual property protection manager for Monsanto.
The ruddy-faced Ralph appeared in court in blue jeans and a plaid shirt.
He made no comment during or after the hearing. His attorneys have asked
him to hold his peace because his civil case with Monsanto - in which he
has already been ordered to pay more than $1.7 million to the
agribusiness giant - is still not over.
But Ralph has been outspoken about his feelings. He said in a deposition
in 2000 that opposition to Monsanto led to his decision to burn the bags
"Me and my brother talked about how rotten and lowdown Monsanto is. We're
tired of being pushed around by Monsanto," he said then. "We are being
pushed around and drug down a road like a bunch of dogs. And we decided
we'd burn them."
Monsanto's new seeds have won widespread acceptance among American
farmers. An example is genetically modified soybean seeds, which are
designed to work with Monsanto's herbicide Roundup.
The seeds, which won government approval in 1994, are expected to account
for 80 percent of the 73 million acres of soybeans planted in 2002 and
2003, the Department of Agriculture says.
Monsanto and its supporters say its fees are justified so the company can
recoup costs and pay for future research.
Farmers who refuse to pay the fees obtain an unfair advantage over
others, Monsanto says.
Some critics contend that the company's pricing is excessive and too
tough on farmers.
"Farmers were always able to compete by saving seed. It's really a
question of the corporate profit - that's what's being protected. If you
can't save seed, you've got to buy it," said Lou Leonatti, an attorney
from Mexico, Mo., who represents Ralph in his civil case.
People from Tipton County, near Ralph's home, wrote to tell Judge Webber
that farmers there had suffered some hard years.
Paul D'Agrossa, attorney for Ralph in the criminal case, argued for
probation so his client could continue to work the soil and support his
But Webber, who explained that he had saved seed on the family farm where
he grew up, said he could not ignore Ralph's efforts to conceal evidence.
"I'm not interested in making an example of Mr. Ralph. At the same time,
I can't turn a blind eye to his conduct," the judge said.
Taking note of the planting season, Webber said he would not require the
farmer to report to prison before July 1.