Monsanto's culture of fear - A Farmer Prepares for Final Battle Against Monsanto
"It's an absurd situation, akin to someone dumping junk on your land and then accusing you of stealing it". (item 1)
"When is the Canadian government going to stop promoting the commercialization of a technology which has so clearly been released prematurely into the marketplace, and which so clearly externalizes its true costs of production involuntarily and unavoidably to its own citizens?" (item 3)
*A Farmer Prepares for Final Battle Against Monsanto
*On the Appeal of the Percy Schmeiser Decision
*On the Implications of the Schmeiser Decision
A Farmer Prepares for Final Battle Against Monsanto
By Stephen Leahy*
The resolution of the case of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser against the agribusiness-biotech giant Monsanto could have global repercussions for patent rights. The Canadian Supreme Court will hear the case in January 2004.
BROOKLIN, Canada - Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser will get his final chance in January 2004 to beat agribusiness and biotechnology giant Monsanto, when the Canadian Supreme Court is to issue a ruling that could affect farmers the world over.
At 72, Schmeiser has become a hero of the global anti-transgenics movement for his legal battle over Monsanto's attempts to enforce its patent rights over the genetically modified seeds the transnational company sells.
Five years ago Canadian law enforcement officials seized Schmeiser's entire canola crop (also known as rapeseed, Brassica napus) from his 1,030-acre farm in Bruno, Saskatchewan, after Monsanto filed a legal complaint.
Monsanto said Schmeiser violated their patent rights on the company's genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready canola by growing it without paying for the seed and without signing a technology use agreement.
While Schmeiser agreed some of his fields contained Monsanto's GM canola, he said they were contaminated the previous year by pollen from a neighbor's fields and by seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a nearby canola processing plant. The very tiny seeds move easily with wind, bees or birds.
In a conversation with Tierram*rica, Schmeiser said he simply planted seed saved from the previous year, as has been his practice in 50 years of farming.
Careful seed selection had given him some of best yields of any farmer in his area. He was unaware that some seeds collected in 1997 contained Monsanto's proprietary genetics and as proof points out that he did not spray Roundup on his 1998 crop.
However, in 2001 a Canadian court ruled that it didn't matter how the GM seed ended up in Schmeiser's field or if he benefited from it. Simply growing and harvesting it was a violation of Monsanto's patent rights. Fines and penalties were levied for around 143,000 dollars.
Since then Monsanto has asked for nearly 716,000 dollars more to cover their court costs and has liens on all of his property and assets Schmeiser said.
"It's an absurd situation, akin to someone dumping junk on your land and then accusing you of stealing it," says Brian Helweil, agricultural expert with the non-governmental Worldwatch Institute, based in Washington.
"The outcome of the Schmeiser case will set an important precedent for other countries," says Peter Rosset, an agroecologist and co-director of FoodFirst/Institute for Food and Development Policy, an organization that promotes food as a human right.
"It would be terrible for farmers if Schmeiser loses," Rosset told Tierram*rica.
The implications for agriculture worldwide will be profound, agrees Helweil.
About 61 percent of Canada's 10 million acres (four million hectares) of canola is planted in genetically modified varieties that are herbicide tolerant and used mainly to produce processed food ingredients, cooking oils, and livestock feed.
It has been a costly battle thus far, topping 214,000 dollars in legal fees. Monsanto "used every legal trick to prolong this and make it more expensive," says Schmeiser who says he has spent 140,000 dollars of his own money, the rest has come as contributions.
"When I lost that really scared the world farming community and donations started to pour in."
While a number of NGOs support his efforts, donations are made through his website and at the many speaking engagements he does around the world.
Without those, and his pension, he says he would not have considered taking his case to Canada's Supreme Court.
Despite the heavy financial costs, he says, "I'm the happiest I've been in five years about going to the Supreme Court."
"Monsanto will lose either way the case turns out," says Helweil. If Schmeiser wins, it means Monsanto cannot stop farmers from saving seeds. If he loses then Monsanto must take responsibility for its seed and the genetic contamination it is causing.
Anti-GM activists say the release of modified genetic material into the environment could harm ecosystems and human health. To date there are no conclusive studies on the impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Canadian farmers will be paying close attention when the case begins Jan. 20, says Darrin Qualman, spokesman for Canada's National Farmer's Union.
Contamination by transgenics is a big problem all over western Canada, Qualman told Tierram*rica.
"One farmer's fields in Swift Current (Saskatchewan) of premium non-GM canola were completely contaminated this year. An organic farmer is about to lose his organic certification for the same reason."
Monsanto has maintained the problem is limited to one or two dozen farms at most. It sends students to hand pick any of its wandering GM plants.
"There's a tremendous reluctance among farmers to report that they have unwanted GMOs in their fields," says Qualman. After Schmeiser lost in 2001, no one is clear about what farmers' rights and responsibilities are and there is a fear that "somehow you might owe Monsanto money".
"Monsanto has built a culture of fear here", agrees Schmeiser.
One of Monsanto's tactics he says is to send threatening letters to farmers saying they might be illegally growing the company's GM crops. If they pay the company 10,000 or 20,000 dollars, then they won't prosecute. "It's bioterrorism," says the farmer.
Two Saskatchewan organic farmers are fighting back. They filed a class action lawsuit in 2002 against Monsanto Co. and Aventis SA on behalf of the more than 1,000 organic farmers whose farms represent about one million acres (405,700 hectares) in the province.
The legal action is seeking compensation because they have lost their markets for organic canola because of contamination by the GM canola and pollen.
The lawsuit is also aimed at halting Monsanto's plans to introduce GM wheat in the region in 2004 or 2005.
Organic farmers aren't the only ones upset about GM wheat. An unlikely coalition of more than 200 anti-GM activist groups, small and large farmers, grain handling and food processing companies as well as the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) that markets all of Canada's wheat have been standing shoulder to shoulder against GM wheat over the past two years.
"The same thing that happened to canola will happen to wheat," says Schmeiser who is not an organic farmer.
"It's been very stressful but if I don't continue to fight someone else will have to."
* Stephen Leahy is a Tierram*rica contributor.
Excerpt from: A fanciful tale... On the Appeal of the Schmeiser Decision
E. Ann Clark, Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
*Once an individual plant, or even a single kernel on an individual plant, has been pollinated by pollen carrying Monsanto's patented genes, the whole plant becomes the property of Monsanto
*Once plants in a field are found to carry Monsanto's patented genes, the proceeds of the whole field become the property of Monsanto.
*How many plants in a field need to be contaminated in order to cause the entire crop to become Monsanto's property was not stated in the judge's decision, but in principle, could one be enough?
*This entire situation resulted directly from the decision to allow individual genes to be patented. It could never have happened with conventionally bred varieties, because it is the variety and not an individual transgene that is 'owned'. A seed company's 'owned' variety might cross-pollinate with a neighboring field, but the resulting seed would be a cross - not the owned variety, so the company would no longer own it.
*Of all the life science companies, only Monsanto has chosen well publicized litigation as its method of preference for enforcing patent rights. There are other, equally effective alternatives, as has been amply shown by the other companies that are just as protective of their investment in patented genes. Thus, protection of intellectual property is clearly not the only, or perhaps even the main reason for Monsanto's strategy in threatening to bring thousands of farmers into court. The purpose is to generate fear, and hence, compliance, in order to force the purchase of more GM seed.
*The consequences of being 'caught' with Monsanto's genetics on their land or personal garden will be too great for many growers to accept, particularly after watching the reputation and livelihood of Percy and Louise Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, the Rodney Nelson family of North Dakota, the Troy Roush family of Indiana, and other large and successful farmers being systematically destroyed by well publicized allegations of patent infringement.
Excerpt from: On the Implications of the Schmeiser Decision
Published in Genetics Society of Canada June 2001 Bulletin
E. Ann Clark, Plant Agriculture, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
Like the StarLink debacle which continues to haunt US corn growers, marketers, consumers, government officials, and the seed trade itself, the guilty verdict in the case of Percy Schmeiser illustrates some of the shortcomings of applying GM technology to field crop agriculture. Far from making food cheaper, GM technology will necessarily make food more expensive - and particularly - but not solely - for those who have chosen not to grow GM crops.
*Why should non-GM growers be obliged to adjust their rotation and herbicide schedules and field design in order to protect their own crops from contamination from neighboring GM crops?
*Why should non-GM growers have to absorb costs of coping with gene flow that is unwanted, involuntary, and unavoidable - or face prosecution?
*Why should those who have managed their crop specifically for the high-premium GM-free market be forced to lose the premium because of contamination from neighboring land?
*Why should any farmer be forced to accept GM contamination in the seed they sow on their own land?
*Why should taxpayers be obliged to support the mushrooming government infrastructure needed to monitor, regulate, and negotiate to keep GM crops in the marketplace, and the virtually endless costs of recalling contaminated seed and food products from the market?
*Why should consumers have to pay more for food that is worth no more (and arguably, less to them) because the costs of dealing with unwanted GM both on the farm and in the marketplace must, necessarily, be passed on to the consumer?
*Why should all growers be penalized by plummeting crop prices incurred because a minority of growers chose to grow GM, causing traditional clients to refuse to buy GM-contaminated grain and instead to patronize off-shore sources?
*Since when do importing countries have to buy GM grains, just because we want to grow them?
*What happens when the traits that move are not HT, but vaccines, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and industrial enzymes?
*When is the Canadian government going to stop promoting the commercialization of a technology which has so clearly been released prematurely into the marketplace, and which so clearly externalizes its true costs of production involuntarily and unavoidably to its own citizens?