Canada: Anti-GM farmers score victory

Issue 

"Percy Schmeiser's decade-long legal odyssey has finally come to an end — and he's got a cheque for [C]$660 to prove it", the March 20 Toronto Globe and Mail reported.

"The 77-year-old Saskatchewan farmer and his wife, Louise, became international folk heroes for their legal struggle with agribusiness giant Monsanto Canada Inc., after the company sued them for violating its patent on genetically engineered canola seeds in 1997."

The Schmeisers won a small-claims court case on March 19 against Monsanto, with the corporation agreeing to pay $660 for the costs of removing canola crops grown from genetically modified seed patented by Monsanto from the Schmeisers farm in 2005.

The dispute began in 1997 when the corporate giant sued the Schmeisers for violation of its patent after canola crops grown Monsanto-patented GM seed were discovered on their farm.

Monsanto claimed that the Schmeisers had deliberately planted the seeds and failed to pay the corporation the fees that it is legally entitled to for using its patented technology. Monsanto sought damages totalling $400,000.

The Schmeisers, however, denied planting the crops and argued that the seeds blew in from outside.

In 2004, Canada's Supreme Court rule 5-4 in favour of Monsanto and its right to patent GM seed, according to the Globe and Mail. However, it also ruled that the Schmeisers didn't have to pay the costs Monsanto sought.

When more crops grown from the GM seed appeared on their farm the following year, the Schmeisers pulled it out and sent Monsanto the $660 bill, the article reported. Monsanto offered to pay the costs of removing the crops, however its offer came with the stipulation that the Schmeisers sign a confidentially agreement that would bind them to never speak about the case.

The Schmeisers refused. The Globe and Mail reported: "'That release form they sent us was a gag order,' Mr. Schmeiser said. 'We could never talk to anyone for the rest of our lives about what the terms of the settlement were. There was no way we were going to give up our freedom of speech to a corporation.'"

Following the March 19 court victory, Monsanto will pay the costs without the Schmeisers being gagged.

According to the Globe and Mail: "The Schmeisers became international causes celebres because of the David and Goliath nature of the case. Mr. Schmeiser has been invited to speak at universities and parliaments all over the world, and appearance fees have helped to pay for much of the couple's court costs. In December, they were awarded the Right Livelihood Award — unofficially considered to be the alternative Nobel Prize ..."

"This is a great victory for farmers all over the world", the article quoted Percy Schmeiser as saying. "Now they have at least an opportunity to have some recourse on a corporation when they are contaminated."