Monsanto Says Justice Officials Want Seed Access Details

Monsanto Co. said Jan. 14 that the U. S. Department of Justice has issued a civil investigative demand for information on the company’s key soybean traits business after complaints that Monsanto was trying to limit access to push a new, pricier product instead.

Monsanto said it was cooperating with the department and reiterated that it was going to allow farmers and seed companies continued access to its first-generation Roundup Ready soybean trait following that product’s patent expiration in 2014.

Seed dealers, rivals and others had complained that Monsanto was creating conditions, through contracts with seed dealers and other means, that would unfairly push farmers to buy its new Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans and away from the first-generation Roundup Ready beans.

But Monsanto has said repeatedly over the last month that it will not try to stop farmers from saving and replanting its Roundup Ready soybeans after the patent expires and rivals will be able to incorporate the Roundup Ready-tolerant trait into their products.

“We respect the thorough regulatory process,” said Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s chief deputy general counsel. “We believe our business practices are fair, pro-competitive and in compliance with the law.”

The fresh demand notice from investigators comes amid a larger probe into competition in the agriculture industry and a specific look at the seed industry, where Monsanto is a world leader.

Monsanto said that the Justice Department wanted confirmation of Monsanto’s pledge for market access to the Roundup Ready trait, a genet ic al terat ion that Monsanto developed to make soybeans withstand treatment of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

Last week, DuPont specifically asked U. S. regulators to gain assurances from Monsanto regarding the Roundup Ready trait access.

DuPont, which owns Pioneer Hi-Bred International, has also complained saying Monsanto is generally unfairly using monopoly powers to drive up prices and hinder competition.

The Just ice Depar tment and the U. S. Department of Agriculture will be holding five hearings later this year to discuss fair play and concentration in agricultural marketing.

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