August 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- BBC News, 08/01/03:
A single farmer from the Canadian Prairies is preparing
to take on a mighty biotech corporation in his country's
Percy Schmeiser, a sprightly 72-year-old from Bruno,
Saskatchewan, has become a hero to the anti-GM movement
worldwide for resisting Monsanto's attempts to enforce
its patent rights over the seeds it promotes.
The outcome of the case could have major implications
not just for genetically modified crops, but for the
patenting of genetic techniques in many other areas.
Mr Schmeiser's battle with Monsanto dates back to 1998,
when it accused him of planting the company's genetically
modified canola (oilseed rape) on his land without permission,
and demanded that he pay it the same fee required of
those growing GM crops under contract.
He refused, saying that he had simply followed his
usual practice of collecting seeds from his own crop
to plant for the following year, and that it must have
become contaminated from GM canola grown nearby.
Mr Schmeiser told BBC News Online: "I was very
concerned, because we realized that there was contamination
of the pure seed we had been developing for half a century.
"We said to Monsanto when we received the law
suit, 'if you have any GMOs in our pure seed, you should
be liable and there should be a law suit against you
Monsanto claimed the level of herbicide resistance
in the crop was such that it could not have happened
accidentally, but the company did not prove this in
court - it did not need to.
Because the judge in the original case ruled that it
did not matter how the seed came to be in Mr Schmeiser's
field, he was deemed to have infringed the company's
patent rights simply by growing and harvesting it without
It made no difference that he did not spray the crop
with Monsanto's Roundup weed killer and therefore did
not benefit from the altered genetic structure of the
Stuart Wells, of the Canadian National Farmers' Union,
says the ruling has deterred some farmers from complaining
when they find unwanted GM "volunteers" or
"weeds" in their fields.
"I suspect that there are a lot of farmers who
are not even reporting contamination to Monsanto because
they don't want a company with the control they have
to know that they have been polluted.
"It's sort of a Catch-22 situation, if the farmer
has no control whatsoever, and might end up in the sort
of trouble that Monsanto is heaping on Percy Schmeiser."
Monsanto itself says it will never pursue farmers when
GM seeds accidentally appear on their land, but says
it will protect its patent rights when its technology
is deliberately misappropriated.
Might and mouse
Mr Schmeiser's lawyers will argue in the Supreme Court
that companies have no right to patent an entire plant,
and they have been heartened by a recent ruling from
the same court involving the "Harvard Mouse".
In that case, Harvard University claimed a patent on
a mouse genetically altered to make it more susceptible
to cancer for use in medical research, but the court
ruled that a "higher life form" could not
be classed as an invention.
Percy Schmeiser has had to mortgage much of his land
to pay his legal fees, and admits that the five-year
battle has caused enormous stress, but he says he does
not regret it.
"We felt that what we were fighting for was not
only for ourselves, but for farmers around the world,
for their right to use their own seed. That's why we
stood up to them."