s/r home  | issues  | authors  | 34 contents

Synthesis/Regeneration 34   (Spring 2004)

Schmeiser Stands Up to Biotech Tyrants

by Uncle Don Fanning

Defendant Percy Schmeiser began a second appeal in January 2004 in the highest court of his nation, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). Monsanto first accused Schmeiser of growing canola from Roundup Ready seeds that he had not paid royalties on in 1997 and he has been entangled in expensive legal battles ever since.

Schmeiser insists that he is the victim of Monsanto; canola seeds he has saved and selected for generations are contaminated by the inevitable spread of their GE product via the movement of pollen and spillage from trucks transporting their seed—hence, no guaranteed containment of the GE crop seeds and no security for the living seed investment of farmers like Schmeiser.

This time Schmeiser’s case is bolstered by a recent ruling against another biotech warlord and an alignment of interests between Schmeiser, an international coalition of NGOs and the province of Ontario. These factors plus the appeal’s focus on whether Monsanto’s patent should be honored under Canadian law (rather than whether Schmeiser owes Monsanto royalties on their patent) are key in determining not only whether Schmeiser overturns the rulings against him by lower courts but also literally whether the growing tyranny of species ownership terrorism is overthrown and biodemocracy restored to the planet.

Without Schmeiser’s stand against Monsanto, the corporation would be one giant step nearer winning monopolistic control of our food supply.

Schmeiser’s case is also important because he shouldered great personal risk while others knuckled under to Monsanto;s (and other NGO giants’) brutal tactics. Monsanto’s initial threats against Schmeiser in 1997, the abortive “mediation talks” of August 1999 and a trial and appeal in June 2000 and May 2002 are the milestones (or millstones) in a 6 to 7 year case which would wear down most plaintiffs. Monsanto even secured a Federal Court of Appeals ruling against Schmeiser making him responsible for its own legal expenses plus fines totaling over a million dollars (at the same time that mega-corporations like Monsanto push for “tort reform” protections). According to Schmeiser, “It has been stressful but we just made up our minds that we’re not going to give up.” Without Schmeiser’s stand against Monsanto, the corporation would be one giant step nearer winning monopolistic control of our food supply.

Reinforcements are on the horizon.

In December of 2002, the SCC ruled on Harvard University’s OncoMouse patent. (The OncoMouse is a GM mouse that quickly develops cancer.) Their ruling stated that, “Patentable microorganisms are formed in such large numbers that any measurable quantity will possess uniform properties and characteristics. The same cannot be said for plants and animals.” Therefore the Court determined that “higher life forms” can’t be patented under Canadian law unless the Canadian Parliament mandates it. While Monsanto spokesperson Trish Jordan feels that Monsanto’s patent on canola will be upheld because it “is important not only to Monsanto, but companies like us who continue to invest in Canada, knowing our rights will be respected,” Schmeiser’s attorney, Terry Zakresky, is confident that this precedent will invalidate it because canola is a “higher life form.” In addition, a favorable decision for Schmeiser will further strengthen arguments against gene patenting in Canada. [1]

On October 23, 2003, an NGO coalition was granted leave to intervene in Schmeiser’s SCC appeal. Intervener status allows the applicant to make submissions to the SCC, in this case countering Monsanto and bolstering Schmeiser. The coalition is led by the Council of Canadians and includes the Sierra Club of Canada, Canada’s National Farmers Union as well as international groups (the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration, the International Center for Technology Assessment, and Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology). The NGOs intervened on the grounds that the decision in the Schmeiser appeal affects both the Canadian and international debate about patenting life forms. [2]

Also in October, the Ontario provincial government determined that it would intervene in the Schmeiser appeal because gene patents affect its healthcare costs. This is in response to a threatened lawsuit by Myriad Genetics against the province for not paying royalties on tests for genetic predisposition to breast cancer. Myriad, based in the US, claims a patent on certain cancer-causing genes and charges three times as much for its test as the one that the province uses. Ontario expects many similar patent-based lawsuits to impact its costs and argues against gene patenting on the basis that a gene molecule is patentable but not the information contained in it. [3]

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments by the attorneys on January20; it will likely be months before the Court renders a decision.

Despite staunch allies sustaining many fronts on the legal battlefield, Schmeiser still needs help in meeting his own expenses. Remember that a win for Percy Schmeiser is a win for all of us! Paypal payments may be made via his website (http://www.percyschmeiser.com/) or checks and money orders may be mailed to “Fight Genetically Altered Food Fund Inc.,” Box 3743, Humboldt SK Canada SOK 2AO. These donations are not tax deductible.


1. “Canola case tests GMO patent,” by Kristen Philipkoski, Wired, 12/02/03, reposted by CropChoice News at http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry.asp?recid=2257.

2. “NGO’s seek standing in Monsanto v. Schmeiser,” Canada NewsWire press release by Council of Canadians, 10/1/2003, reposted by Percy Schmeiser at http://www.percyschmeiser.com/NGO.htm.

3. “Ontario government intervenes in high-profile gene-patenting case,” by Dennis Bueckert, Canadian Press, 10/7/2003, reposted by Percy Schmeiser at http://www.percyschmeiser.com/Ontario.htm.

Additional Resources:

Legal documentation including countersuits filed by Schmeiser may be found with a search of the Federal Court of Canada’s website (http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca).

[5 apr 04]

Synthesis/Regeneration home page | s/r 34 Contents