Health Supreme by Sepp Hasslberger

Networking For A Better Future - News and perspectives you may not find in the media

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July 10, 2003

Schmeiser's Battle for the Seed

Biotechnology giant Monsanto has been aggressively pursuing legal action against Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser for allegedly using its GM canola seeds without paying a $37-per-hectare fee for the privilege. Schmeiser says he never bought Monsanto's GM canola and has sued the company for contaminating his fields. The legal battle has been dragging on for years and Schmeiser has now obtained leave to make his case before the Supreme Court.

The case of Schmeiser really brings to attention an important point of principle: the question whether plants, fruits, seeds and living organisms should be patented. For millennia, these things have been part of our environment and free for anyone to plant, grow and use as they please. The genetic modification industry survives on patentability. Yet, the companies which obtain patents on tomatoes, grains, mice and pigs have not ever "invented" the characteristics and the life of these organisms. They are merely removing and re-inserting parts of genes in a rather crude process of trial and error.

There is much popular opposition to genetic modification, and no lack of good arguments. Safety has never been adequately tested, and in the few cases where this has been done, dangers have become obvious. Scientists have lost their jobs over publishing their findings and voicing doubts. Maybe equally important, patentability of life has removed agriculture into the sphere of big business. It opens the door to control of our food supply by a handful of multinational corporations who are not farmers but investment businesses. Their ability to press and control farmers will in time endanger our very food supply. Certainly not a prospect to look forward to.

However there is a speck of light at the end of this tunnel: In December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the genetically engineered Harvard oncomouse is not patentable (see "Canada rejects patents on higher forms of life ", ISIS Report, March 2003 ). This opens the door to revoking patents on GM seeds, such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola. This could be the last nudge to get GM crops off our globe.

British government seems to be promoting public discussion on the issue of genetically modified foods, according to a recent article on BBC News. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate the website they mention in their article.

And here a tidbit on "scientists have lost their jobs" from the Daily Mail 7.7.03

Dr. Arpad Pusztai who discovered possible dangers from GM potatoes was sacked from him job, following a TV documentary on this. A phone call from Monsanto to President Clinton complained that his research would be a blow for Monsanto. Clinton rang Tony Blair, who rang the Rowlett Institute who sacked him, says Prof. Robert Orskov OBE, a leading nutritionist at the Rowlett Institute.

"Don't Worry (It's Safe to Eat) by Andrew Rowell, published by Earthscan on
10 July, £16-99)

Dr. Mae-Wan Ho of the Institute of Science in Society has talked with Percy Schmeiser. Here is her report.


Link to this story

What makes a farmer from a small rural community in Saskatchewan stand up to Monsanto? And possibly, win? Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports.

Percy Schmeiser, now in his early seventies, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered Canadian farmer from the small rural community of Bruno some 80km east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, never dreamt he would be catapulted to the status of a contemporary folk- hero. He had been farming for 40 years when he was taken to court by biotech giant Monsanto in August 1998. The company
claimed he had illegally planted its genetically engineered Roundup Ready canola without paying a $37-per-hectare fee for the privilege.

Schmeiser was not alone. Monsanto had accused scores of farmers of patent infringing on its genetically engineered seed. But, instead of settling out of court with Monsanto like the others, Schmeiser fought back. He had been sowing each crop with seeds saved and selected from the previous harvest for years, and had never purchased seed from Monsanto. Even so, he found more than 320 hectares of his land contaminated by Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola.

Schmeiser insisted that any Roundup Ready growing on his land was spread by wind or by grain trucks travelling on roads adjacent to his fields.

On 10 August 1999, mediation talks to settle the dispute ended in failure. The next day, Schmeiser launched a $10 million lawsuit against Monsanto, accusing the company of a variety of wrongs, including libel, trespass and contaminating his fields with Roundup Ready canola. But Schmeiser's lawsuit against Monsanto won't be dealt with until the original lawsuit has been resolved. Little did he know what a long, hard battle he has taken on.

It is a battle for the seed, for every farmer's right to save and resow harvested seed, to freely share and exchange without restriction, as farmers have been doing for at least 15 000 years since agriculture began.

The trial was heard in June 2000, in the Federal Court in Saskatoon. At the trial, Monsanto presented evidence from two dozen witnesses and samplers that Schmeiser's eight fields were all more than 90% Roundup Ready. Monsanto had performed no independent tests, however; the tests were all performed in house or by experts hired by the company.

In defence, Schmeiser presented his own farm-based evidence, that the fields ranged from nearly zero to 68% Roundup Ready, which was confirmed independently by research scientists at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. Schmeiser's defence also contained evidence that he did not knowingly acquire Monsanto's product, nor did he segregate the contaminated seeds for future use or spray his canola crops with Roundup.

But the Federal Court ruled against Schmeiser. Justice Andrew McKay upheld the validity of Monsanto's patented gene. In a key part of the ruling, the judge agreed a farmer can generally own the seeds or plants grown on his land if they blow in or are carried there by pollen; but this is not true in the case of genetically modified seed.

It didn't matter how the Roundup Ready canola got to his fields. He was deemed to have infringed Monsanto patent, and was fined $15/acre x 1030 acres licence fee, plus the value of his entire crop, $105,000 (including fields that did not have any Roundup Ready canola), plus $25,000 for punitive and exemplary damages.

"Where does Monsanto's rights end and mine begin?" Percy Schmeiser asked. He refused to abide by the judgement, and launched an appeal, which was heard in May 2002 in Saskatoon.

Unfortunately, all three judges ruled against him yet again. By this time, he and Louise, his wife of 50 years, had already spent $ 200 000 in legal fees. He had ceased to plant canola, for any canola crop he planted would belong to Monsanto.

Monsanto had kept up a constant campaign of harassment and intimidation all through the trial in 1999 and 2000. And in 2001, Monsanto brought a new case against Schmeiser for $1 million in court costs -- $750 000 for their lawyers, $250 000 for disbursements which included travel expenses, payments for expert witnesses and $15 000 lawyer's night entertainments'.

Undaunted, Percy Schmeiser took his case to the Supreme court, and in May 2003, when I caught up with him at the Biodevastation 7 meeting held in Monsanto's hometown St. Louis, Missouri, he just got the good news that he has won his right to be heard in the Supreme Court. There were loud cheers in the hall.

Percy Schmeiser has been tireless in travelling the world to tell his story. Everywhere, farmers are fighting for their lives and livelihoods. Monsanto winning would be the very last straw, not just for farmers, for everyone. Schmeiser has come to symbolise our collective struggle against corporate serfdom. Just as independent scientists are oppressed and victimised, farmers are subject to the same or worse treatment.

Monsanto's tactics are well known. The company gets farmers to sign away all their rights in an unbelievable technology contract. The farmer must not use his or her own seed, must buy seed and chemicals from Monsanto. Monsanto can send inspectors onto your fields for three years even if you grow the company's crops for only one year.

Monsanto also openly advertises for people to tell on their neighbours if they are suspected of having GM crops without licence. The company's representatives can trespass onto your fields even when you are not at home, or fly over your field and spray Roundup to see if the crop dies.

Immediately after Monsanto had obtained its judgement against Percy Schmeiser, the company had declared war on all Saskatchewan farmers. Schmeiser received hundreds of phone calls from farmers who have been contacted by Monsanto representatives and received demand letters saying that they have unauthorised GM crops growing in their fields and must pay so many thousands of dollars to avoid lawsuit. Many of the farmers who called Schmeiser were in the same circumstances: they never bought any seed from Monsanto or signed any contract.

But things may be turning Schmeiser's (and our) way at long last.

In June 2002, a report from the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee said that the Patent Act should be amended to permit farmers to save and sow seeds from patented plants such as genetically engineered (GE) crops.

It also said that farmers who find GE plants growing in their fields through "the adventitious spreading of patented seed or patented genetic material or the insemination of an animal by a patented animal" should be considered as innocent bystanders and not be liable to prosecution.

While biotechnology developments are patentable, the report said the holder does not have "the right to market or even use the invention. This is because some applications of the technology may pose risks to human or animal health or to the environment, challenge the capacity of current approaches to protecting health and the environment and or raise other serious social and ethical questions that must be addressed."

The report suggests that the farmer be allowed to use the seed of a GE crop or the offspring of a GE animal for his or her own use but not for commercial purposes.

Better yet, in December 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the genetically engineered Harvard oncomouse is not patentable (see "Canada rejects patents on higher forms of life ", ISIS Report, March 2003 ). This opens the door to revoking patents on GM seeds, such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready canola. This could be the last nudge to get GM crops off our globe.

Help Percy fight Monsanto and get patents on life revoked for a GM-Free world. Make a donation on his website:

Related stories

Open letter from world scientists

GE crops won't end hunger

US General Accounting Office says GMOs safe

Independent Science Panel on GM

Bayer not responsible for GM damage

3000 protest GM meeting in Sacramento

Synthetic honey and GMO bees?

Schmeiser case on BBC News

And here another commentary just received:

Genetic agriculture designed to feed the rich, not the world

July 10 2003

A handful of companies is moving towards owning every stage of the global food system, writes Gyorgy Scrinis.

Public opposition to genetically modified foods has been a stumbling block to the commercialisation of GM crops and animals. The agri-biotech industry is hoping GM foods with "consumer-friendly" traits might overcome some of this opposition.

But they have also been running big advertising campaigns in an attempt to convince the public that GM foods will be required to "feed the world". These are the kinds of predictable arguments being aired at the International Congress of Genetics in Melbourne.
In reality, the new genetic technologies will largely be used to feed the power and profits of agri-food corporations, and they are more likely to exacerbate - rather than alleviate - the problems of widespread hunger and malnutrition in the Third World.

GM products are primarily being developed to fit into large-scale, chemical-intensive, mechanised and capital-intensive farming systems. Any increase in yields of crop and animal products will be headed for its usual destination: well-off consumers.

Research and development of GM products is largely aimed at adapting crops and animals to the requirements of the global food industries. For example, producing non-softening fruits for long-distance transport so well-off consumers can have access to year-round supplies of out-of-season fruits.

Genetic technologies are also facilitating the rapid corporate integration and concentration of the food system, as a handful of corporations move towards the ownership and effective control of every stage of the global food system. One such strategy for monopoly control is the patenting of all GM crops, with the aim of preventing farmers from saving and replanting their own seeds.

Overall, genetic technologies are facilitating a shift from a chemical-industrial to what I call a "genetic-corporate" form of agriculture - and this food system is undermining the food security of the world's poor and malnourished.

Widespread hunger already exists today, in the context of a global oversupply of food. This is one of the cruellest ironies of the contemporary era. Most countries with the greatest incidence of poverty and hunger are net exporters of food. Growing more food can, in fact, exacerbate food insecurity for the world's poor depending on how, where and by whom this food is produced.

Genetically engineered crops and animals further threaten the food security of the poor in a number of ways. First, to the extent that they enable large-scale, chemical-industrial farms to increase their productivity or profitability, this competitive advantage will enable the further squeezing out of small-scale farmers.

Second, GM crops may accelerate the erosion of farm labouring work in poor rural areas through the further introduction of labour-replacing technologies.

Third, by engineering crops to be sterile, and buying out smaller seed companies, agri-food corporations aim to diminish the availability of unpatented and self-reproducing seeds.

Proponents of GM food have celebrated the engineering of vitamin A rice (so-called "golden rice") as an example of a crop that - if and when it is made freely available in a decade or so - will help alleviate malnutrition in the Third World. Here is a breath-taking example of what I call the "ideology of genetic precision".

Such arguments effectively promote the idea that malnutrition is the result of the nutritional inadequacy of non-modified foods, and can be alleviated through the nutritional modification of these foods, rather than the result of a lack of access to an adequate and diverse diet.

This isn't to deny that genetic technologies could be used to modify traditional crops in ways that may benefit small-scale, capital-poor farmers. But that is to miss the big picture in terms of the primary direction of GE research, and in terms of the primary causes of hunger and malnutrition.

What is actually required is a redistribution of fertile land, of incomes and of economic power, rather than access to genetic products.

There is an obscene arrogance in the idea that GM crops will "feed the world", or that the poor need to be fed by us. For, in reality, poor people and communities around the world will either feed themselves, or they will not feed at all.

Genetic-corporate agriculture is, in fact, a system for feeding on the world rather than for feeding the world. It is about corporations and well-off consumers continuing to feed on the food, the cheap labour and other extractable resources of the Third World; about large-scale industrial producers consuming and displacing more small-scale and subsistence producers and rural communities; and about transnational agri-food corporations feeding on the work of more farmers by swallowing up and patenting the seeds and knowledge developed by traditional farmers over thousands of years.

Dr Gyorgy Scrinis is a research associate in the Globalism Institute at RMIT University.

- - -

VIDEOS: Percy Schmeiser - GM Crops Contaminate Your Field - You OWE Monsanto?!

This is the man whose farm was polluted with GM from Monsanto (by natural means such as wind, bees, birds, etc.) but instead of Monsanto having to pay damages for ruining their seeds and crop, Monsanto claimed that Percy owed them for using their technology without a liscense and therefore their entire crop, seeds & profit from any sales now belong to Monsanto! This went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court - Monsanto won but Percy did not have to pay Monsanto one cent for profits, damages, penalties, court costs or their technology use fee of $15/acre. A victory of sorts, but the court determined that Monsanto does indeed have ownership to the plant and that Percy infringed by having it in his field. Watch the videos to see yet more nastiness that has actually been done - ask if these people are looking out for our best interests, from the kindness of their hearts they want to feed the world - just maybe they are in the process of gaining control of the world's food supply.

Other comments?
Misty L. Trepke

Percy Schmeiser Part 1

Percy Schmeiser Part 2

Percy Schmeiser Part 3

See also:

Percy Schmeiser vs. Monsanto

Schmeiser lost his appeal to the Supreme Court. Here is a comment from ISIS Questions over Schmeiser's Ruling

CANADA: Monsanto Victory Plants Seed of Privatisation
Canadian farmers' traditional right to save seeds is being threatened by proposals to collect royalties on virtually all such seeds following agribusiness giant Monsanto's victory over grower Percy Schmeiser.

January 2005: Monsanto has been caught bribing an official in Indonesia to block environmental impact studies of the planting of their GM cotton seeds and they are continuing to sue U.S. farmers over patent violations.

April 2006: The Future of Food - Fake Foods
Since the introduction of genetically modified organisms into our food supply over 10 years ago, many scientists, farmers and consumers have voiced their concerns over a variety of issues, such as safety, drift, contamination and so on. Internationally, there are already signs that genetic engineering (GE) is more than just a risky business decision. There are consistent reports now showing that this untested new technology is already having negative consequences on the farmers and the environment...

Monsanto Vs American Farmers in Seed Battle
In response to requests filed earlier this year by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), the United States Patent and Trademark Office will undertake a comprehensive review of four patents related to genetically modified crops held by Monsanto Company that the agricultural giant is using to harass, intimidate, sue - and in some cases literally bankrupt - American farmers. In its Orders granting the four requested reexaminations, the USPTO found that PUBPAT had submitted new evidence that raised "substantial questions of patentability" for every single claim of each of the four patents.

Percy Schmeiser says Organic Agriculture could be Solution to Global Warming
Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser makes the case: shifting existing subsidies to sustainable farming practices could offset greenhouse emissions 10% to 20%. Research shows organic farming increases the carbon uptake in soil by up to 30% and improves the nutrient value of food, thus reducing healthcare costs.

Public invited to vote on policy proposal via online poll

Monsanto: Percy Schmeiser wins moral victory
Although the Schmeisers eventually wound up losing their court battle with the St. Louis-based company in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2004, the couple have now earned a moral victory that they hope will encourage others to carry on their cause.

Yesterday, Monsanto agreed to pay the Schmeisers $660 to settle a small-claims court case they brought against the company for costs associated with removing the patented Roundup Ready canola from their field in 2005.

Schmeiser: GMOs destroy biodiversity
Percy Schmeiser commented: "I've been in Italy before and I've seen the great diversity and varieties of food and fruit and agricultural products that there is in the Country and I hate to see that all these may be destroyed by contamination. GMOs would even destroy the organic farming. If you introduce GMO crops it would no longer be possible to have organic farmers, and this I think is a big concern the agricultural sector must consider".


posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Thursday July 10 2003
updated on Friday February 27 2009

URL of this article:


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Readers' Comments

Update - summer 2004:

On 21 May, Percy Schmeiser lost his appeal against Monsanto's claim for damages for patent infringement on their genetically modified canola seed. The story is reported in The Globe and Mail. The actual Supreme Court ruling can be found here.

It seems to me that while Schmeiser lost his battle, we still have the trump card in our own hands: We can accept or reject (and for my part I am rejecting) buying any foods containing modified genes. Identifying what does contain them is a problem, but there is progress with GMO labelling laws being introduced in diverse places. The corporations can win a legal battle, but I doubt they will win the GMO war.

Posted by: Sepp on July 8, 2004 08:14 PM


pls keep us updated on court proceedings

Posted by: ELMA ROSS on June 1, 2005 12:52 PM


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