Pesticide and Environmental Update
Monsanto vs. Percy Schmeiser
On March 29, 2001, a Canadian judge dealt a crushing blow to Farmers' Rights by ruling that Percy Schmeiser, a third generation Saskatchewan farmer, must pay Monsanto thousands of dollars for violating the corporation's monopoly patent on genetically engineered (GE) canola seed.
Under Canadian patent law, as in the U.S. and many other industrialized countries, it is illegal for farmers to re-use patented seed, or to grow Monsanto's GE seed without signing a licensing agreement. If the biotechnology corporations and U.S. Trade Reps get their way, every nation in the world will be forced to adopt patent laws that make seed saving illegal. The ruling against Schmeiser establishes an even more dangerous precedent because it means that farmers can be forced to pay royalties on GE seeds found on their land, even if they didn't buy the seeds or benefit from them.
Percy Schmeiser did not buy Monsanto's patented seed, nor did he obtain the seed illegally. Pollen from genetically engineered canola seeds blew onto his land from neighboring farms. (Percy Schmeiser's neighbors and an estimated 40% of farmers in Western Canada grow GE canola). Monsanto's GE canola genes invaded Schmeiser's farm without his consent. Shortly thereafter, Monsanto's "gene police" invaded his farm and took seed samples without his permission. Percy Schmeiser was a victim of genetic pollution from GE crops--but the court says he must now pay Monsanto US$10,000 for licensing fees and up to US$75,000 in profits from his 1998 crop.
The GE canola that drifted onto Schmeiser's farm was engineered to withstand spraying of Monsanto's proprietary weedkiller, Roundup. But Schmeiser did not use Roundup on his canola crop. After all, if Schmeiser had sprayed his crop, the chemical would have killed the majority of his canola plants that were not genetically engineered to tolerate the weedkiller! Schmeiser didn't take advantage of Monsanto's GE technology, but the court ruling says he's guilty of using the seed without a licensing agreement.
Monsanto (acquired by Pharmacia last year) is the world's largest biotechnology corporation. The court ruling has far-reaching implications for farming communities around the world. Last year, Monsanto's GE seed technology was planted on 41.6 million hectares (103 million acres) worldwide. That means Monsanto accounted for 94% of the global area sown to genetically modified seeds in 2000. (Total worldwide area is 44.2 million hectares or 109.2 million acres.)
Thanks in large part to Terminator technology, the Monsanto's name has became synonymous with GE seeds and corporate greed. Although Monsanto disavowed "suicide seeds" in the wake of international public protest, the company has routinely employed Draconian measures to prevent farmers from re-using patented seed, including the use of private police to root out seed-saving farmers, and toll-fee hotlines to encourage rural residents to snitch on their farm neighbors. Monsanto has threatened to "vigorously prosecute" hundreds of cases against seed saving farmers, but Schmeiser's was the first major case to reach the courts. Schmeiser courageously decided to fight back and speak out against bioserfdom.
In North America, where many farmers have embraced GE technology, there are signs of resistance worth noting:
* The National Farmers Union of Canada has called for a national moratorium on producing, importing and distributing GE food.
* A bill introduced in North Dakota (U.S.), backed by the state's wheat farmers, would impose a moratorium on growing genetically modified wheat--a crop that Monsanto hopes to commercialize by 2003.
* In March 2001 the National Farmers Union (U.S.) adopted a policy supporting a moratorium on the introduction, certification and commercialization of genetically engineered wheat until issues of cross-pollination, liability, commodity and seed stock segregation, and market acceptance are adequately addressed.
* The Indiana (U.S.) House of Representatives passed a bill last month defending the farmers' right to save seed.
* Oklahoma's Secretary of Agriculture, Dennis Howard, recently commented: "After reviewing Monsanto's 2001 Technology Agreement, I would discourage any farmer from signing this document. Not only does this contract severely limit the options of the producer, it also limits Monsanto's liability...The protection of the Monsanto contract is strictly one-sided and I would encourage producers to carefully consider this before entering into this agreement."
Support Percy Schmeiser
Percy Schmeiser has filed a counter-suit against Monsanto, but his family faces enormous legal costs that cannot be sustained without outside assistance. Contributions to Schmeiser's legal defense may be sent to:
"Fight Genetically Altered Food Fund Inc." CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) 603 Main St. Humboldt SK Canada SOK 2AO Phone 306 682-2614
For more information about Percy Schmeiser's case, go to: http://www.percyschmeiser.com
To see the 62-page decision by Canada's federal court judge Andrew MacKay go to: http://www.fct-cf.gc.ca
Source: Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Geno-Types, April 2, 2001.
Contact: Rural Advancement Foundation International, 110 Osborne St., Suite 202, Winnipeg MB R3L 1Y5 CANADA; phone (204) 453-5259; fax (204) 925-8034; email firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.rafi.org