The Monsanto's critics are proving right. It is not just some head-in-the-clouds activists who are denouncing the biotech giant. While the competitors are blaming it for its tactics to retain its monopoly in the seeds market, the farmers too are beginning to complain loudly of the money they have to fork out to buy the Monsanto seeds.
The farmers can't go for a new crop with the seeds they have harvested, they are contractually prohibited. They violate at their own risk - those who do, are slapped with suits by the firm.
Roundup Ready is a miracle seed from the Monsanto that has proved to be a huge success. The gene-modified seeds inoculate plants against a herbicide, Roundup, also made by Monsanto.
The RR method is called a no-till system as it doesn't require the traditional tilling, but relies exclusively on herbicides to control weeds. The crop is sown directly into the soil, there is no follow-up cultivation. Weed control depends entirely on the herbicide - which is of courseádutifully supplied by Monsanto.
Yields increase, even a monkey can farm with it, as they say, and so the farmers are loath to give up on RR, even if it is expensive. Other seed firms pay royalty and obtain licence to manufacture and distribute the much sought after seeds.
More than 9 out of 10 soybean seeds carry the Roundup Ready trait. It's about the same for cotton and just a little lower for corn.
"Farmers will not buy soybeans without Roundup Ready in it. So, that gives Monsanto an amazing amount of leverage," says Jim Denvir, a lawyer working for DuPont. DuPont owns Pioneer, a competing seed company.
Monsanto doesn't allow any other genetic trait to be coupled with the RR and promptly sues anyone seeking to do so.
Now the patent period is to expire in the next four years. But the firm is ready for it. It is now coming up with Roundup Ready2 Yield to ensure it continues to rake in profits. RR2 uses the gene as the original, just placed in a different spot in the genome. Monsanto says that boosts yield.
If the Roundup Ready saga brings to one's mind the furore over Microsoft Windows, the tweaking to get the new version is a commonplace tactic in the drug industry.
The striking difference, though, is there is no clear path for a genetically modified crop to go generic. One can't start manufacturing RR and selling it the moment the patent expires, as it happens in the case of drugs.
As it stands, generic providers would probably still need access to Monsanto's proprietary data to get federal approval to sell the Roundup Ready trait. They would also need closely held technical data to update licenses that keep the trait legal in big, important markets like China and the EU, Frank Morris reported for the National People's Radio.