ALBANY, NY — The First Lutheran Church was the setting
for the talk by Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer being
sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. Speaking to a standing
room only crowd of more than 300, Percy spoke plainly and clearly
about the lawsuit and what it means to everyone in the world.
Percy described himself as a seed saver and seed developer.
A seed saver is a farmer who saves seed from one year to the
next so that he has seed to plant the next year, and does not
need to buy seed. His crop was canola, also known as rapeseed.
He and his wife Louise spent 50 years developing canola seeds
that would grow well in his part of the world — Bruno,
Saskatchewan, about 250 miles north of the border of Montana.
His farm is about 1400 acres in size, an average size farm
for the plains.
Percy was mayor of his village for more than 25 years, was
elected to the provincial parliament and for his entire life
has worked for rules and laws to benefit farmers.
Around 1995, Percy told his wife he was thinking of retirement.
Louise expressed concerns about what he would do with himself,
so Percy decided to keep farming for a while longer.
What to do with his spare time was decided in 1998, when
Monsanto sued Percy for patent infringement. Monsanto said
that it had
found GMO (genetically modified organism) canola seed in Percy’s
field, and that Percy had to pay a $15 an acre fee for using
its patented GMO seed.
Percy never had anything to do with Monsanto. He never purchased
seed from Monsanto. He was concerned that Monsanto seed had
contaminated his farm. The GMO canola plants got into his fields
by the wind blowing pollen or seed onto his land.
It took two years for the pre-trail motions and paper-work
to be completed. During this time, Monsanto dropped their charge
that Percy had illegally obtained the GMO seed. Because this
was a patent case, the case would not be heard by a jury but
by one federal judge. The trial took two and one-half weeks.
The federal judge decided that it did not matter how the
GMO crops got into his field, he must pay Monsanto their fee
$15/acre. In addition, the judge ordered that Percy pay Monsanto
all of the profits from his 1998 crop, and that he must turn
over all of the plants and seeds to Monsanto. Two of Percy’s
fields were not contaminated with Monsanto GMOs and 60% of
the GMOs Monsanto found were in the ditch by the road.
Percy appealed his case to the federal Court of Appeals,
which upheld the ruling against Percy by the first judge.
The last resort was the Supreme Court. As in the US, the
Canadian Supreme Court only reviews a very few of the cases
it is asked
to. The Supreme Court heard the case the week before Percy
came to speak, on January 20. Because it is a complicated case,
the Court reserved decision. It may be as long as six months
before the court hands down a ruling.
This ruling may have world-wide consequences. This is the
first case of its kind in the world. Though obviously the decision
of the Canadian Supreme Court is not binding on other countries,
it will set a precedent that other countries may look to when
confronted with similar cases.
Percy has been to every continent in the world except Antarctica
(no need to tell the penguins about GMO crops!) to talk about
his case and the issue of GMO crops. This is much more than
a simple patent issue. Percy asks, Can living organisms be
owned by corporate patents? What about a farmer’s right
to grow organic crops? What about a farmer’s right to
use his own seed? And,
Who can patent life?
In this case, it is a single gene put into the canola seed
that makes the canola plant immune to the herbicide roundup.
Because Monsanto put this single gene into the canola plant,
does this mean that Monsanto can patent the entire plant?
Percy then went on to explain why Monsanto become the one
of the biggest seed companies when it used to be one of the
chemical companies. About five years ago, the patent on Roundup
ran out. Roundup is an herbicide sold by Monsanto. It constitutes
45% of Monsanto’s sales and 25% of Monsanto’s profits.
Monsanto went on a buying spree and spent $2 billion to buy
Monsanto went on to develop genetically modified seeds that
were immune to Roundup. They sold these seeds to farmers, promising
a greater yield and less need to use chemicals.
Percy described Monsanto’s tactics in selling seeds to
farmers. Farmers are not allowed to save their seed from year
to year, they must buy the seed from Monsanto. The farmer must
permit the Monsanto police force to go on their land for three
years, even though the contract is for one. And, the contracts
states that the farmer will not sue Monsanto for any reason.
The Monsanto police are often former Royal Canadian Mounted
Police. Percy has photographed them coming onto a farmer’s
field, without the farmer’s permission, and taking samples
of the canola plants.
According to Percy, for farmers that do not buy seed from
Monsanto, Monsanto will fly a helicopter over a farmer’s field
and drop some Roundup herbicide. Then, a couple of weeks later,
Monsanto will return. If the canola plants are still alive,
that means they contain the patented gene. Monsanto will send
farmers a letter asking for payment of the “Technology
Fees”; Percy called these “extortion” letters.
What are some of the bigger issues with GMO plants? First,
there is no such thing as containment. The GMO plants produce
seeds that are spread through wind, flood, birds, and the pollen
is spread through bees. Once these organisms have been released
into the environment, there is no calling them back. Next,
there is no co-existence; these GMO plants destroy both organic
and conventional farmers crops. Percy said, “I cannot
grow canola. Choice is taken away. Can you recall a life-form
from the environment? No.”
This fight against Monsanto has been hard on Percy. He is
73, and his wife is 72; they have five children. He has a judgement
against him for $153,000, and has $300,000 in legal bills.
But, he said that he and his wife decided they had to stand
up to for farmer’s rights; that they had to stand up
By the way, Percy notes, no GMO food is sold at the Monsanto
headquarters in London.
Save the Pine Bush will follow this case because of the implications
of releasing GMO crops into the environment. For up-to-date
information and Percy and his fight, go to his website: www.percyschmeiser.com/.