Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)
Author: Brian Bowling

ERIE, PA — An Erie County wheat farmer has become the latest target of a St. Louis agricultural biotech giant’s ongoing effort to protect its patents.

Monsanto Co. says in a federal lawsuit filed this week in Pittsburgh that Harold Steve Wiser Jr. of Fairview violated a licensing agreement by replanting seeds gleaned from crops grown from its patented Roundup Ready product.

There was no phone number listed for Wiser, and no one answered the door at his Blair Road home on Wednesday.

The company claims that Wiser and another farmer, Harold V. Wiser of Girard, saved seeds from crops grown in 2009 and 2010 and planted them this year. The lawsuit does not state whether the Wisers are related.

Monsanto’s website says it has filed lawsuits across the nation 145 times since 1997 to stop farmers from saving seeds from crops instead of buying new seeds. The company files about 11 lawsuits a year to protect its business interest in the seeds and prevent those farmers from having an unfair advantage over competitors who are legally buying Monsanto’s seeds.

In 2006, Harold Steve Wiser Jr. operated more than 50 farms in Crawford, Erie, Mercer and Venango counties, according to a 2009 federal lawsuit he filed over the denial of a crop insurance claim.

Al Lindsay, the Butler lawyer who represented Wiser in the lawsuit, said he has the largest wheat growing operation in the state. Lindsay hadn’t heard of the Monsanto lawsuit and declined to comment.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has no policy or position on the issue, said spokesman Mark O’Neill. From one perspective, this is a breach of contract lawsuit, and those are as common for farms as other businesses, he said.

Several farmers declined to discuss the issue on the record, but some informally said that farmers who sign the technology agreements with Monsanto are obligated to meet the terms of the contract.

Ellery Troyer of Waterford said one reason he uses conventional wheat seeds instead of Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds is so he can save seeds and replant them each year. He does use Monsanto’s genetically modified soybean seeds and honors the technology contract for those seeds.

Farmers that sign a contract with Monsanto have to abide by its terms, Troyer said.

“In general, I’m not big fan of a corporation owning a patent on a gene,” he said. “But nobody’s telling them they have to buy the seeds from them.”

Of more concern to him and other conventional wheat farmers is the threat of Monsanto suing them because cross-pollination can contaminate their fields with the company’s engineered seeds.

“It should be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to sue us,” he said. “They’re fully aware of how crops are pollinated.”

Troyer said cross-pollination is even more a concern for organic farmers because if testing shows any contamination from nearby fields of genetically modified grain, they lose their crop.

“It’s a really messy situation when you start messing around with gene pools,” he said.

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