P. 1
2010 SP4 - Swinburne SCI17 - Major Essay

2010 SP4 - Swinburne SCI17 - Major Essay

|Views: 241|Likes:
Published by illallangi

More info:

Published by: illallangi on May 24, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





Individual Assignment Coversheet (Online version



7208383 +61 407 384 998

SCI17 – Cultural Perspectives on Science and Technology DATE OF SUBMISSION: 21/02/2011


I declare that ( the first four boxes must be completed for the assignment to be accepted):

X This assignment does not contain any material that has previously been submitted for assessment at this or any other university. X This is an original piece of work and no part has been completed by any other student than signed below. X I have read and understood the avoiding plagiarism guidelines at http://www.swinburne.edu.au/ltas/plagiarism/students.htm and
no part of this work has been copied or paraphrased from any other source except where this has been clearly acknowledged in the body of the assignment and included in the reference list.

X I have retained a copy of this assignment in the event of it becoming lost or damaged. X (optional) I agree to a copy of the assignment being retained as an exemplar for future students (subject to identifying details
being removed).

Student acknowledgement ( by typing your name you agree to the above):

Date: Andrew Edward COLE 21/02/2011

Office Use Only Date Received Total Mark / Grade
Individual Assignment Coversheet as of Nov 2009.doc

Received by Marker

“The Schmeiser v Monsanto case illustrated the potential for GM technology to significantly affect the rights of farmers. Are farmers entitled to better protection by law from corporations like Monsanto, or are corporations entitled to protect their investments and interests using whatever legal means available? Discuss the social, ethical and legal implications.”

Andrew COLE 7208383 SCI17 Group 6 Tutor: Emma Beddows

1880 words

Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

Abstract This essay provides an overview of some issues surrounding the science of genetic engineering food crops. The benefits of Monsanto seed, namely increased herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are compared with the benefits brought by the Golden Rice project, namely increase vitamin A, and a comparison is drawn between the two products usefulness to developing countries. A brief overview of a traditional project attempting to replicate some of the benefits offered by genetic engineering is presented. This essay concludes with a summary of the legal issues surrounding patents and food labelling for genetically engineered food in the US/Canada and Australia.

Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

Genetic modification technology has the potential to alter the way farmers work. Monsanto has introduced genetically modified crop that brings several benefits to the farmers who chose to use it, but at what cost. Monsanto utilises protections afforded it by the granting of a patent in an arguably unethical manner, prompting the question of whether current law is sufficient to protect farmers. Questions are also asked as to whether the use of genetic modification is ethical, and whether the effects it has on society is worthwhile. The most common genetic modifications of crop seen so far have been to improve the crops yield. This is done through increasing the herbicide tolerance of plants and developing plants that are insect resistant (Kimbrell & Mendelson 2005, p. 8). Monsanto produces plants that are engineered to survive the use of Roundup, one of the most common herbicides on the market (also one of Monsanto’s products). Monsanto also produces plants that produce a toxin normally produced by a naturally occurring bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis), resulting in the plant being toxic to butterflies, moths and beetles. Farmers using Monsanto’s genetically modified crop can expect higher yields and less weeds than those using crop that is not genetically modified. Monsanto has taken the unusual step in the US of patenting the genetic modifications they make to their seed. In the US a patent gives an inventor of an original invention exclusive right to make, use or sell the invention, normally for a period of up to 20 years. In return for being granted a patent the inventor must describe the invention in enough detail that a professional in the field could reproduce it. In this way the people gain knowledge in return for the exclusive rights granted (Kimbrell & Mendelson 2005, p. 9). As of 1999 Monsanto held 62 patent applications (Top GMO patent application holders 1999).

Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

Monsanto make use of the exclusive rights granted by their patent in the US to only allow the sale of seed when the purchaser has signed a licencing agreement. This licencing agreement prohibits the collection and use of seed from a planted crop, which has been the traditional source of seed for farmers. Instead, under these license agreements, farmers must purchase seed every season from a Monsanto dealer. As Monsanto has the patent on their genetic modifications, they have the right under current US law to prevent anyone from growing plants from their seed. Monsanto have gone as far as prosecuting farmers who never knowingly planted patented seed. Natural processes can spread Monsanto seed from a licenced farm to a non-licenced farm, resulting in contamination of the unknowing farmer’s crop with patented Monsanto product. Even in the case of a farmer deciding to stop using Monsanto seed, fields previously planted with genetically modified seed can continue sprouting ‘volunteer’ plants years afterwards. Farmers who inadvertently harvest such plants are considered to be using Monsanto technology, and are liable for prosecution if they do not take out a licencing agreement with Monsanto. “Monsanto has filed 90 lawsuits based on purported violations of its technology agreement” (Kimbrell & Mendelson 2005, p. 31). Typical outcomes of these lawsuits are a monetary settlement in Monsanto’s favour, and injunctions against the farmer using Monsanto seed in the future. In light of the contaminating nature of Monsanto seed many farmers have gone out of business and faced bankruptcy following a negative outcome. These lawsuits are in addition to the countless out of court settlements and farmers being coerced to sign licencing agreements under threat of lawsuit. Developing countries do not have access to the same food supply that the developed world does. 600,000 children a year in these areas go blind due to a lack of vitamin A in their diet
Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

(Morgan 2002, p. 4). While a couple of carrots a day could solve this problem, carrots are not traditionally grown in these areas so they are not available. As the staple diet in these areas is rice, a so called ‘golden rice’ was developed in 2000 by two scientists in Zurich. This golden rice is high in vitamin A (Ye & Al-Babili 2000) and can be grown using traditional methods. Development of this golden rice was a humanitarian effort, with the inventors intending from the beginning to use the results of their work to help developing countries. Several obstacles initially discouraged such use. While the research was undertaken using only public monies; the underlying technologies of the genetic engineering used patented technologies. This would normally result in the produced seeds being expensive to purchase and restricted against reuse, such as seed collection. The inventors of golden rice solved this problem through a unique agreement with the biotech industries. They gave the biotech companies exclusive commercial control of their work, in return for which the industry gave the rights for non-commercial humanitarian use to the inventors (Potrykus 2003). Non-commercial humanitarian use was defined as “income from Golden Rice per farmer or trader in developing countries below $10,000 p.a.” (Potrykus 2003, p S102). The Golden Rice project also faced the issue of proper handling of genetically modified material in a developing country. The improper handling of such material could result in the widespread contamination of a countries native crop, resulting in a reduction of biodiversity that would obviously be unacceptable. To oversee the handling of Golden Rice a Humanitarian Board was established. This board also oversees fundraising, supports deregulation efforts and acts as an information source.
Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

The use of traditional growing methods as seen in the Golden Rice project is important, but the use of traditional crops is also considered important by many people. In November of 1998 farmers in India protested against the testing of genetically modified crops in a field in Maladagudda, north of Bangalore. Farmers uprooted and burnt a field of genetically modified crops planted by Monsanto. The field was planted by a local farmer who had no knowledge of the genetically modified status of the crop; Monsanto had approached him and asked him to plant a field with cotton seed they provided free of charge (Verzola 1998). Monsanto were experimenting with a new genetically modified seed designed to repel and kill insects. In his 2002 film (Deconstructing Supper 2002) leading chef John Bishop went on a tour of the world to investigate the ethics of genetically modified food. He met Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist who is against the use of genetically modified food. He toured Shiva’s farm and discovered that, using traditional farming techniques and organic food, Shiva is able to feed her entire village just as well, if not better than, farmers using genetically modified seed. The food that Shiva prepared was nutritionally rich and healthy. Bishop also toured an Indian ‘living seed bank’, where natural crops were grown from seed and offered to farmers free of charge. The farmers used this seed, and would collect seed from the resulting crop. The collected seed would be used for the next season, and the farmers would give twice as much as they received to other farmers in their area. Shiva stated that by following this process a single kilogram of seed given to a farmer resulted in hundreds of farmers having seed, and feeding perhaps thousands of people. Clearly such a program would not be possible if Monsanto seed was used, as the licensing agreements would prohibit such an action. The organic seed being used had most of the advantages of
Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

genetically modified seed. The seed bank had seed that was natively drought resistant for dry areas; natively salt resistance for coastal areas; and even frost resistant for colder areas. The organizers of the seed bank where concerned about the reduction in biodiversity that genetic engineering brings with it; when most farmers use seed from the one source then only that one strain of plant survives. Dealings with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Australia are regulated by the Gene Technology Act 2000. With some minor exceptions, all such dealings are prohibited unless licenced (NSW Parliamentary Library Service 2003, p. 7). As of 2003 five licences have been issued for the commercial release of genetically modified plants in Australia. Genetically modified crops accounted for a third of Australia’s total cotton crop in 2001. Labelling of genetically modified food in Australia is required by Standard A18 (NSW Parliamentary Library Service 2003, p. 10). In the United States, however, there is no mandatory labelling of food containing genetically modified ingredients (Huff 2010). As discussed above, the law in the United States and Canada currently allows for patents to be granted on genetically modified seeds, which allows Monsanto to collect its fees like it does. Monsanto’s right to do this has been confirmed in the Canadian Federal Court (2001). The situation in Australia is not as clear, as no case has been heard to test the law. Talk instead has focused on the states and their bans on genetically modified food (Tribe, David 2006). In the mid-1970s, the early days of computer programming, it was common for users to go to computer club meetings and make copies of commercial software, without paying the original manufacturers the licence fees they asked for. When then Microsoft chairman Bill Gates wrote an open letter imploring people to pay for the software they copied to allow
Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

him and his company to manufacture better software in return, many users responded with angry letters. They compared making copies of Microsoft software to copying songs off the radio onto cassette tape, a practice which was common at the time (Wallace & Erickson, 1992). A comparison can be drawn between the situation Microsoft found themselves in the 1970s and where Monsanto find themselves today. At the time the personal computer industry was largely made up of hobbyists, and it was commonplace to copy software free of charge. Microsoft changed all that by requiring licences on their software, prohibiting copying, and defending their right to do so. Similarly Monsanto is today requiring licences on the use of their intellectual property, and suing those who break the licence agreements. It is a time of change in the industry, and perhaps in 20 years or so agreements similar to Monsanto’s will be commonplace, as agreements on computer software such as Microsoft’s are commonplace today. It can be argued that the legal protections in place at the time where sufficient for Microsoft to prosper, and the computer industry is stronger than ever today. There should be no need for additional legal protection for companies such as Monsanto. However, Microsoft’s actions were not as far reaching as Monsanto’s are today. The fact that Monsanto is enforcing licence agreements on farmers that have not willingly or knowingly copied any of Monsanto’s trade secrets begs for additional legal protection to be implemented. Beyond the legal matters between Monsanto and uses of their technology, wider issues must be considered. The use of genetically engineered crops cannot be undertaken lightly. The benefits are obvious, from improving yields for struggling farmers in the developed world, to improving nutrition for those in developing countries. However any such use
Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

should be carefully monitored and controlled, to ensure it does not destroy the planets biodiversity. Programmes such as the Indian ‘living seed bank’ show a viable alternative to genetic engineering, while maintaining the natural order and traditional techniques.

Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

References Kimbrell, A & Mendelson, J 2005, Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers, The Center for Food Safety, Washington. ‘Top GMO patent application holders’ 1999, Nature Biotechnology, vol. 17, p. 410. Morgan, S 2002, Genetic Modification of Food, Heinemann Library, Oxford. Ye, X & Al-Babili, S 2000, ‘Engineering the Provitamin A (Beta-Carotene) Biosynthetic Pathway into (Carotenoid-Free) Rice Endosperm’, Science, vol. 287, issue 5451, pp. 303-305. Potrykus, I 2003, ‘Nutritionally Enhance Rice to Combat Malnutrition Disorders of the Poor’, Nutrition Reviews, vol. 61, supplement 6, pp. S101-S104. Verzola, R 1998, ‘anti-Monsanto picket’, GENTECH, discussion list post, 10 December, viewed 15 February 2011, <http://www.gene.ch/gentech/1998/Nov-Dec/msg00143.html>. Deconstructing Supper 2002 [DVD], Video Education Australasia, Ballarat. NSW Parliamentary Library Service 2003, Genetically Modified Crops, Briefing Paper No 19/03, NSW Parliamentary Library Service, Sydney. Canadian Federal Court 2001, Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Percy Schmeiser and Schmeiser Enterprises Ltd., Docket T-1593-98, viewed 12 February 2011, <http://decisions.fctcf.gc.ca/en/2001/2001fct256/2001fct256.html>. Tribe, David 2006, ‘Seed patents and royalties under gun’, GMO Pundit a.k.a. David Tribe, viewed 13 February 2011, <http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2006/01/seed-patents-androyalties-under-gun.html>. Huff, E 2010, ‘US opposes honest labelling of GMO foods’, NautralNews.com, 9 July, viewed 14 February 2011, <http://www.naturalnews.com/029168_GMO_foods_labeling.html>. Wallace, J & Erickson, J 1992, Hard Drive – Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Andrew Cole 7208383


SCI17 February 2011

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->