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Monsanto, steaks, and chefs: Intellectual property and food

From the Washington Times:

Monsanto, steaks, and chefs: Intellectual property and foodSunday, April 7, 2013 – The Business of Living by Joseph S. Diedrich

MADISON, Wisc., April 7, 2013 ― With all the current controversy over agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto, many are missing the biggest problem: reliance on patents and monopoly protection.

Last week, President Obama signed into law the infamous “Monsanto Protection Act” as part of an Agricultural Appropriations Bill. The law, which essentially protects the agricultural giant against litigation, has caused opponents of Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to erupt in a firestorm.

The opponents rally against Monsanto for numerous reasons.

GMOs are unsafe for human consumption; Monsanto should be required to extensively label all of its food products; the environment suffers from the widespread use of genetically modified crops; Monsanto is a big, scary, evil corporation bent on controlling and destroying the world. And so the list goes on.

These charges are largely hokum. There exists substantial scientific evidence debunking the claims of activists who suggest that GMOs are unsafe for humans or the environment. The call for mandated labeling is a call for increased government regulation, something at which everyone should shudder.

The big problem with Monsanto is its reliance on intellectual property. Rather than on innovation, the company’s entire business model is based primarily on patent protection and the monopoly power the patents have bestowed upon it.

SEE RELATED: Even libertarians wrong on Monsanto Protection Act

While all intellectual property protection is economically and ethically backward (see herehere, and here), a particularly malignant trend is its ever-increasing prevalence in agriculture and food. In 2011 alone, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved nearly 1,200 patents on or related to food.

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