Farmers Planting Generic GMOs as Monsanto Patents Expire
Twenty years after Monsanto developed its first genetically modified crop seeds, some of the company’s early patents are expiring, leading to the emergence of the first generic GMO unpatented seeds being available to farmers at a fraction of the patented cost. Farmers are also now free to collect and replant the generic seeds, providing even further cost savings.
Typically when a patent on a drug expires, smaller competitors move in, gaining market share and increasing competition. It is still unclear to what extent this will happen in the GMO seed space.
Agricultural universities including Kansas, Georgia and the University of Missouri are developing and beginning to market their own generic varieties. These varieties can also be patented, however, the University of Kansas has stated that even with a patent in place it will not restrict farmers from saving and replanting seeds.
“We’ve gotten calls from all over the country, but how big a deal it’s going to be we still don’t know,” says Donald Dombek, director of the University of Arkansas Crop Variety Improvement Program.
Increased competition will likely be a welcome development. Ninety percent of U.S. soybeans planted today are Monsanto’s genetically engineered RoundUp resistant variety. Although a real possibility, Monsanto has stated that it is not concerned about a more crowded market – the company has developed a new GMO variety, RoundUp Ready 2, that it claims is more effective and which still have enforceable patents in place, while a third generation GMO seed is awaiting approval.
Over the next decade, multiple genetically modified seed traits are scheduled to lose their patents posing a serious concern for both companies and the agriculture industry because of global regulations regarding biotechnology. China requires that modified traits be registered every three years while the EU requires registration every ten years. If registrations and approvals for unpatented traits lapse, there is a concern it may lead to trade disruptions.