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Synthesis/Regeneration 29   (Fall 2002)

Thinking Economically

Genetic Contamination and Farmers’ Rights

by Percy Schmeiser

My name is Percy Schmeiser. I am a Canadian farmer. For the last 50 years my wife Louisa and I have farmed 1441 acres in Bruno, Saskatchewan. We have built up a farm that works well. Rapeseed is an important crop for us and we used to sell it all over the world for cooking oil and cattle feed. Like most farmers in Western Canada, I collected and stored my own seed. After years of selection I had a variety that gave a good yield, was quite resistant to local diseases and was relatively weed-free.

In 1997, I sprayed Roundup as usual on the weeds and stray rapeseed plants growing around my fields. I was surprised that so much rapeseed survived the application. Had I got the herbicide concentration wrong? I now realize this was the first sign that my fields had been contaminated by genetically modified (GM) rapeseed.

My neighbors and 40% of farmers in Western Canada plant GM rapeseed. Since 1993, Monsanto Canada has been licensed to use technology that will make plants resistant to its glyphosate herbicide, Roundup.

Farmers can then use Roundup as a broad-spectrum herbicide without damaging their GM crop. In 1995, Canada approved the uncontained release of GM rapeseed and in 1996 local companies started selling GM varieties.

Although Monsanto owns the gene and the technical know-how, they have done little to contain their invention once it entered the environment. In 1998, Monsanto inspectors entered my land without permission and took rapeseed.

Monsanto inspectors entered my land without permission and took rapeseed.

They accused me of planting GM rapeseed without a license and prosecuted me.

If Monsanto suspects farmers are growing GM rapeseed without a license, they take away rapeseed plants for inspection. If test results are positive and the license fee of $15 (Canadian) per acre and contract have not been met, legal proceeding for infringing Monsanto’s patent follow.

In my case, GM plants had seeded themselves on my land and pollinated my conventional rapeseed. The following planting season I tried to contain GM contamination by buying new seed but still 20% of my harvest was contaminated.

In Canada there is no law against carrying rapeseed in open trucks or leaving cut rapeseed in the field. This makes it easy for the small seeds to spread. It is also impossible to contain pollen flows. The gene responsible for glyphosate resistance is a dominant gene and rapeseed is an open pollinated plant. When a GM plant crosses with conventional rapeseed, resistance will be carried into the following generation. In my fields the GM variety was thickest along the roadway. There was little in the field itself. When I received the court summons I wondered why anyone would think I had deliberately mixed GM rapeseed with my own seed. The only advantage of growing GM rapeseed is its resistance to Roundup. If farmers spray Roundup on a mixed GM and non-GM crop they can expect big losses. In my defense I argue that possessing the seed does not violate Monsanto’s patent. It becomes a violation when I spray my crop with Roundup and activate the innovation—the gene that confers glyphosate resistance.

I believe Monsanto lost its right to exclusivity when it lost control of its invention.

When this gene incorporates itself into a seed or plant, what are Monsanto’s rights? The seed and plants are the farmer’s property. GM rapeseed has the ability to intrude where it was not planted. It has the ability to replicate itself. I believe Monsanto lost its right to exclusivity when it lost control of its invention. How can farmers avoid GM rapeseed getting into their crops and becoming a contaminating weed? These questions are now being discussed by Canada’s Federal Court.

Today, we cannot sell our rapeseed abroad and other products are being affected too. Just recently the Netherlands rejected a consignment of Canadian honey because it was contaminated with GM material. Organic farmers in our district have a particular problem because they cannot meet the GM-free standard for organic certification.

Farmers dread the financial consequences of litigation. Today I face legal bills of $200,000 (Canadian). Monsanto’s legal bill is $400,000 (Canadian). If I lose I will have to pay Monsanto’s costs as well.

But I have to fight. I know from the support I have received from all over the world that farmers need to protect their rights to choose the technology they use, the crops they grow, and the seeds they save. Particularly in developing countries farmers’ livelihoods depend upon their right and ability to select and save appropriate seed and maintain an ecological balance on their farms.

I have filed a countersuit against Monsanto. I know many farmers are watching how my struggle proceeds.

See information regarding a video of Percy called "Heartbreak in the Heartland: The True Cost of Genetically Engineered Crops." You can read the text that Paul Goettlich transcribed from the video (link to free online video and VHS purchase) at: http://www.mindfully.org/GE/GE4/Heartbreak-In-The-Heartland21jul02.htm

Follow the Percy Schmeiser case on http://www.percyschmeiser.com/

Note. At the time of printing $3 Canadian exchanged for $2 US.

Monsanto Lying about 98% of Crop Being Genetically Modified

by Percy Schmeiser

One point about my struggle against Monsanto that really bothers me is its claim that something like 98% of my 1998 canola crop tested positive for the presence of the Roundup gene. Monsanto is being deceitful in this regard. I do not believe that this sample with such a high reading came from my farm. Before sowing my 1998 crop, I took some of my seed to Humboldt Flour Mills for inoculation against diseases and insects. Later, I learned that the milling company had kept one sample, which it returned upon my request.

In 1999 Monsanto formally accused me of illegally planting its transgenic seed the year before. It based this accusation on what its agents claimed was Roundup-resistant canola that they found growing in the ditch next to my fields.

Feeling uneasy about the pending lawsuit, I took samples from all of my fields, plus what the flour mill had returned to me, to the University of Manitoba to be tested for the presence of Monsanto’s patented genes. I had to send the samples there at my expense because Agriculture Canada, a government agency, refused to test my seed. Yet, it did testing for Monsanto at taxpayer expense.

The University of Manitoba test results revealed no detectable level of modified genes in several of the samples; in two other samples they detected 2% and 8%. The samples taken from the field and the ditch where I first noticed the Roundup Ready canola volunteers growing had a 60% level of genetic contamination. Notably, those areas abut land on which my neighbor planted Roundup Ready canola in 1996. Seed and/or pollen from those canola plants, could quite easily have been transported to my field.

Months before the June 2000 trial began I received some shocking news.

Monsanto announced that an employee of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which a year before had purchased Humboldt Flour Mills, found and turned over a sample of my seed from 1998. (Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was and is licensed to sell Monsanto’s genetically modified canola seed.)

I phoned the employee, Morris Hofmann, to ask how he knew it was my seed. Hoffman replied: “You don’t know.”

At trial, Hofmann, a good friend to the local Monsanto representative, testified that he had found the sample. My lawyer, Terry Zakreski, pointed out that it would be difficult to know, after the passage of two years, the origin of the seed. To wit, I had not cleaned my saved (bin run) seed, full of chaff, that I delivered to Humboldt Flour Mills in 1998 for inoculation. The one-pound sample that the mill later returned to me was in the same condition. Contrast that with what Monsanto claimed Hofmann had discovered: 20 pounds of clean seed in Saskatchewan Wheat Pool bags.

I ran into Hofmann after the trial. He apologized to me for lying about supplying Monsanto with a sample of clean Roundup Ready canola seed for use in court. He told me that Monsanto had taken him on trips, to lunch and given him free products to use on his farm.

But he wasn’t the only witness whom Monsanto wined and dined. Hofmann told me that Monsanto had a reception room where liquor and other refreshments were served to witnesses while the trial was happening.

Reprinted from May 24, 2002 CropChoice; with permission of the author.

For more Monsanto deceit: http://ngin.tripod.com/deceit_index.html

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