Last month, we wondered if agriculture giant Monsanto was about to step into an antitrust suit. After all, if a company’s patented genes are in 95% of all soybeans and 80% of all corn grown in the U.S. and it doesn’t end up in some sort of antitrust debacle, well, there’s a problem. And lo and behold, our prediction came to fruition as the Justice Department announced this week that it has opened a formal antitrust investigation into Monsanto.
According to a Monsanto press release, the DOJ wants to make sure that farmers and competitors will continue to have access to the company’s patented first-generation Roundup Ready soybean seed when its patent expires in 2014. The seed is specially engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.
For its part, Monsanto claims that it won’t stop other companies from making generic versions of Roundup Ready when the patent expires. Farmers will also be allowed to replant Roundup Ready seeds from the previous year’s harvest, a practice that is currently prohibited. The Monsanto press release assures farmers that “an objective review will show our business and our industry to be competitive.” Competitive? That might be a stretch.
While Monsanto will allow competitors to make generic versions of its first generation soybean seed, the company is hoping that farmers will switch over to a second generation Roundup Ready seed that will be patent protected after 2014. Of course, farmers aren’t being forced to switch, so it’s likely that the DOJ investigation won’t have any major effects on Monsanto’s business.
[Via The New York Times]