A federal jury chosen Monday in Greenville holds the fate of Mitchell Scruggs’ farming empire.
This legal battle has been going on since Sept. 7, 2000, when agriculture giant Monsanto sued Scruggs; his brother, Eddie Scruggs; and five of their business operations.
Monsanto sought to stop the Scruggses from saving and replanting patented seeds.
Ultimately, across years of legal wrangling all the way to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and back, the defendants admitted what they had done.
Now, Monsanto wants financial damages for what’s been done.
But Jim Waide, one of Scruggs’ attorneys, says Monsanto wants its pound of flesh to make an example of the Lee County ag business.
Monsanto wants to crush them, Waide said last week, before the federal trial to establish what the Scruggses owe.
Tuesday, Waide said Monsanto’s lawyers told the Greenville jury that Scruggs owes them $10 million.
Seven years ago, then 54-year-old Mitchell Scruggs said the same to a New York Times reporter looking at the saved-seeds controversy.
“They wanted to make an example of me,” he said, “They want to destroy me to show others what could happen to them.”
Since then, Scruggs has gained a nationwide reputation for the cause and founded Farmers Save Our Seed, better known as Farmers S-O-S.
U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr., who’s presiding at the trial, set aside three weeks for the case.
Monsanto owns the patent on inserting a modified gene into crop seeds so that the plants grown from those seeds are resistant to certain herbicides and insects that feed on the plants.
When those plants produce seeds, they retain the resistance to herbicides and insects.
The company insisted that it’s invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the soybean, cotton and other seeds. If farmers are allowed to replant the seeds, Monsanto said, effectively, it loses control of its rights.
That’s because, the mega-corporation has said, one bag of patented seeds can produce 36 more bags of seed for the next growing season. That number grows exponentially, so that by the third season, a single bag of seed could generate almost 50,000 bags.
Despite Scruggs’ claims that he didn’t sign any no-reseed agreement with Monsanto, the appeals courts disagreed, saying planting saved seeds amounts to patent infringement.
Earlier this week, Scruggs’ attorneys asked for more time before trial to deal with more than 1,000 exhibits they received Aug. 27 from Monsanto attorneys.
While Pepper hasn’t ruled on their motion, the trial got under way Monday.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 687-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal