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 Supreme Court.
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
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
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
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 people'."
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 permission.
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 plant.
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
"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
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."