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When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents.

“Monsanto spends more than million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers,” Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to “One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them.” Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, “a tiny fraction” do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who “reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use.” He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial.

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. Rinehart says he told the intruder, “You got the wrong guy.”When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. Rinehart says he can’t remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: “Monsanto is big. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace.

Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto’s legal wrath.

Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years. Rather, it was a bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills.

But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers.

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