Update on Percy Schmeiser
Jill Taylor Bussiere
jdt at itol.com
Thu Apr 11 11:45:28 EDT 2002
Fight Against Monsanto Vaults Farmer Into World Spotlight
By Krista Foss
The Globe And Mail
Monsanto did not know what it was getting into when it tried to teach
Percy Schmeiser a lesson.
Two years after losing a patent dispute with the biotechnology giant,
the 71-year-old grain farmer from Bruno, Sask., has taken his story --
and his message about farmers' rights -- from Brazil to Bangladesh,
from Australia to Austria.
He has at least as many international gigs as boy band 'N Sync this
year, yet the jet lag is not slowing him down.
In the fall, he visited South Africa. In March, he was in Thailand.
This week he kicks off a tour that will take him through Europe. Then
he's off to Seattle, followed by a spin through South America.
"It has been pretty hectic," he said recently.
Farmers groups, environmentalists and United Nations policymakers all
want to hear Mr. Schmeiser's tale of being taken to court over the
kind of canola found growing in his fields four years ago.
Some will pay his air fare and expenses to have him tell it in person
(he doesn't charge speaking fees.)
And the next time this grandfather of 14 will be back home in
Saskatchewan is mid-May, when a Saskatoon judge is to hear his appeal
of the March, 2000, ruling that made him an international folk hero.
"Monsanto couldn't have picked a worse person to get into a fight
with," said Pat Mooney, the executive director of the Winnipeg-based
technology watchdog group ETC, who has seen Mr. Schmeiser speak at
"He's articulate and emotional, and he always creates a stir when he
tells his story."
Born and raised in Bruno, a farming community 90 kilometres northeast
of Saskatoon, Mr. Schmeiser has grown canola, wheat and legumes on
1,400 acres of land for the last 47 years.
In the last two years, it has become increasingly difficult for him
to maintain his packed travel itinerary and his grain farm. This
year, he will rent out most of his land to neighbours and cultivate
just 300 acres himself with the help of family.
In 1998, Monsanto informed him he was infringing on their patent for
a herbicide-resistant strain of canola, called Roundup Ready, because
they had found it growing in his fields. He had not paid the
necessary fees to cultivate it.
Mr. Schmeiser argued that the seed had blown into his field or had
been dumped there by accident, and that made Monsanto's patent
invalid. Monsanto wanted to settle out of court, but Mr. Schmeiser
A federal cou rt judge ruled in March, 2000, that it was unlikely the
patented canola ended up growing in Mr. Schmeiser's fields by
accident and that he must have knowingly harvested the patented
strain without informing Monsanto. "What the judgment said was it
doesn't matter how Monsanto seeds get into your fields; it's their
property. All the farmers' rights go out the window," Mr. Schmeiser
The case cost Mr. Schmeiser and his wife Louise $200,000 in legal
fees. To pay, they mortgaged their land and gutted their retirement
savings. But the judge also awarded costs to Monsanto, which this
fall asked for nearly $1-million.
"Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night and ask
ourselves, 'What did we get ourselves into? We could lose everything
we worked our whole lives for,' " Mr. Schmeiser said.
But rather than sit at home and fret, Mr. Schmeiser has turned
himself into a global poster boy for the rights of small farmers.
Through his web site (http://www.percyschmeiser.com), which touts his
story as "the classic David vs Goliath struggle," he has raised tens
of thousands of dollars to pay for next month's appeal.
The site sports a photograph of him holding the Mahatma Gandhi award,
presented to him in Delhi in 2000 for his work promoting non-violent
improvement of humanity.
Meanwhile, Monsanto Canada is resigned to losing the public-relations
battle, as long as it wins in court.
"We knew going into this that this was a no-win situation for us in
the public's eye. It has all the classic things that people can take
a spin on," said Trish Jordan, Monsanto Canada spokeswoman. "The
bottom line is that this case for us is about protecting intellectual
property. There are 30,000 farmers who use this technology in Canada
and pay to use it."
Ms. Jordan said the company is not at all worried about Mr.
Schmeiser's appeal and she noted he has not paid "one cent" of the
costs owed to Monsanto.
But high-profile lawsuits against Monsanto are not likely to end with
Mr. Schmeiser's appeal.
Earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate launched a
class-action suit against Monsanto and Aventis claiming that pollen
drift and contamination from their genetically modified strains of
canola have made it impossible for Saskatchewan farmers to grow
certifiably organic canola.
Mr. Schmeiser has also registered a lawsuit against Monsanto for
damages related to alleged contamination of his fields by Roundup
Ready canola, a suit he hasn't yet had time to pursue.
"My wife said we won't live long enough to see the end of it," he
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