Percy and Louise Schmeser were awarded the Right Livelihood Awards for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers’ rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws”.
Monsanto vs. Schmeiser
In 1998 the Schmeisers received a letter from the US agribusiness giant Monsanto, claiming that they had used their seeds without a license.
Alarmingly, they had never bought or intended to use Monsanto seed on their land. The genetically modified, ‘Round-up Ready’ canola (rape) seeds had accidentally blown onto their property. Therefore genes that Monsanto claimed to “own” under Canadian patent law had ended up in the Schmeisers’ seeds. The seed giant then threatened to sue the Schmeisers for ‘infringement of patent’, seeking damages totalling $400,000. The company offered to withdraw the legal challenge if the Schmeisers signed a contract to buy their seeds in future and pay the technology use fee.
The Schmeisers contested the case right up to the Canadian Supreme Court whose ruling supported Monsanto’s claim to own their gene. So the Schmeisers lost their breeding research that had been built up for decades. Also the varieties that had been painstakingly adapted to their local environment through cross-pollination were corrupted as they now contained the Monsanto-“owned” gene. However, the court also concluded that the Schmeisers should not have to pay Monsanto as they had not benefited from having the seeds on their land.
Now, in a new legal case, the Schmeisers are claiming that Monsanto ‘owned’ genes are to be regarded as contamination and not beneficial to farmers.
To avoid future problems, the Schmeisers grew crops other than canola. They found Monsanto canola plants on their land again, so called the company and demanded that they be removed. Monsanto agreed on the proviso that the Schmeisers signed a non-disclosure statement and gave assurrance not to take them to court. The Schmeisers refused and again demanded that the plants be removed. Monsanto did not respond. The Schmeisers paid $600 to remove the plants and sent the bill to Monsanto. As they did not pay, the Schmeisers sued them in a provincial court. In May 2007, a mediation attempt failed and the trial date is now set for January 23, 2008.
A member of the International Commission on the Future of Food, Percy Schmeiser was also a core member of the drafting of the Manifesto on the Future of Seed, which has had an impact worldwide. He promotes 12 principles for food and agriculture in an age of biotechnology, which may be summarised thus:
1. All humans have a right to food or to produce it.
2. Natural systems must be protected so that they can produce healthy food.
3. Humans have a right to safe and nutritious food.
4. No rules should prevent countries controlling food imports.
5. Everyone has a right to information about how their food is produced.
6. Regions should have the right to regulate for their own agriculture.
7. Local production and consumption should be encouraged.
8. Regional biodiversity must be protected.
9. Seeds are a ‘common property’ resource.
10. No life form should be patented and terminator seeds should be globally banned.
11. Freedom to exchange seeds should be protected.
12. Farmers should have the right for their land to be free of genetic contamination.
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