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Justice department probes Monsanto

The U.S. Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation into biotech seed giant Monsanto Thursday. As the patent on the company’s dominate genetically modified soy seed, Roundup Ready, comes closer to expiration in 2014, the St. Louis–based company is encouraging farmers to switch to a second generation Roundup Ready that will still be protected.

In a public statement Thursday, Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s chief deputy general, supported the company’s business practices.

“Monsanto continues to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice inquiries, just as we have over the last several months. We respect the thorough regulatory process. We believe our business practices are fair, pro-competitive and in compliance with the law.”

The probe, which specifically addresses Roundup Ready, could expand the number of GMO seeds grown by ensuring the un-patented version of the seed is easily available, says Ted Quaday, communications director for the Organic Farmers Research Foundation. That may be troubling to organic farmers.

“That’s actually not the most positive situation because of cross-contamination issues,” says Quaday. “However, anytime you can shed light on Monsanto’s business practices that’s going to be a good thing. They’ve become a seed giant especially in relationship to GMO.”

The seeds contain a gene specifically designed to resist Monsanto Roundup weed killers. A farmer can spray for weeds without affecting his crops.

Wind and cross-pollination make contamination between a Monsanto crop with an organic crop hard to control. In the past, this has proven challenging for organic farmers, Quaday says.

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