I’ve been farming since 1947 when I took over from my father. My wife and I are known on the Prairies as seed developers in canola and as seed savers. Hundreds of thousands of farmers save their seed from year to year.
In August 1998 I received a lawsuit document from Monsanto. Up to that time I never had anything to do with Monsanto’s GM canola. I’d never bought their seed or gone to a Monsanto meeting. I didn’t even know a Monsanto rep.
There were a number of items in the lawsuit. First of all, they said I had somehow acquired Monsanto’s GM canola seed without a licence, planted it, grew it and therefore infringed on their patent. They went on to say that it was 80 or 90 percent contamination that I had in a roadside ditch and so on.
When we were sued my wife and I immediately realized that 50 years of research and development on our pure canola seed that was suitable and adaptable to certain conditions on the Prairies, climatic and soil conditions and especially diseases that we had in canola, could now be contaminated. We said to Monsanto at the time, “Look, if you have any of your GMOs in our pure canola seed you are liable for the destruction of our property and our pure seed.” So, we stood up to them.
I think at that time there were two main issues. We lost 50 years of research and development and we felt that if farmers ever lose the right to use their own seed the future development of new seeds and plants suitable to their local climatic and soil conditions would be stopped. Those are the two main reasons we stood up to Monsanto.
It took two years of pre-trial and in those two years Monsanto withdrew all allegations that I had ever obtained seed illegally. They even went so far as to admit the allegations were false.
But, they still found that the fact that they had found some of Monsanto’s GM canola plants in the ditch along my field, not even in the field, meant I violated the patent. So, it became a patent infringement case. I had no choice where it would be heard. Patent laws are federal, so it was before the federal court of Canada immediately, with one judge. It went to trial in June 2000 and lasted two and a half weeks.
That ruling is what brought my case to international attention. These are some of the main points:
- It does not matter how Monsanto’s GM canola or soybeans or any GM plant gets into a farmer’s field. The judge went on to specify how this could happen: cross-pollination and direct seed movement. Believe me that’s a primary cause - wind, birds and bees, because we have a lot of wind on the prairies.
- The judge said it doesn’t matter how it gets into a farmer’s field, destroying or contaminating your crop, it all becomes Monsanto’s property. You no longer own your crop. That’s what startled people all over the world; how an organic or conventional farmer can lose a crop and seeds or plants overnight. He also went on to say that all the seeds and plants that my wife and I had developed over half a century go to Monsanto.
- The other issue was that my entire crop from all our canola fields in 1998 goes to Monsanto. He also ruled that I was not allowed to use my seeds or plants again. So, all our research and development was gone and Monsanto got our crop for nothing.
We went to the federal Court of Appeal, which took over a year. Then I had three judges, but at the appeal court they only address the issues of facts of law, points of law or where the first judge erred in law. The viability issue and the property rights issue were never addressed.
After so many days of trial the federal Court of Appeal stated that although the judges did not agree with all of the first judge’s decisions they upheld his ruling. All three judges ruled against me.
Next was the Supreme Court of Canada. Now it was a pretty depressing time because we didn’t know what our chances would be that the Supreme Court would hear it. We applied in November 2002 and in May 2003 we received the best news in five years of legal battle when the Supreme Court ruled that it would indeed hear the case. That was a tremendous victory for us.
I’d like to explain the main issues of what the Supreme Court will be addressing. I will concentrate on four or five facts out of many.
- Can living organisms, seeds, plants, genes and human organs, be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property?
- Who is responsible for the genetically modified traits of noxious weeds that then become resistant to weed killers? We now have these super weeds.
- Can farmers’ rights to grow conventional or organic crops be protected?
- Can farmers keep the ancient right to save their own seed?
- Who owns life?
The first trial judge said it doesn’t matter how it gets there, even when he specified how this could happen. I think that’s what really alarmed farmers and property owners in North America and right around the world, how quickly you could lose your rights as a farmer.
Another issue that you never hear about in GMOs is the issue of corporate control of contracts that exist on the Prairies of North America. You would say to yourself that this can’t happen in a free country like Canada, but it has happened and is happening even today.
Besides the environmental, food, health and contamination issues, there is the issue of contracts. To me this is one of the most vicious contracts on the face of the Earth, taking farmers’ rights away.
These are some of the main points in a contract with Monsanto:
- A farmer can never use his own seeds.
- You must always buy seeds from Monsanto.
- You must only buy your chemicals from Monsanto.
- If you commit some violation of this contract, and they fine you, you must sign a non-disclosure statement that you cannot talk to the media or to your neighbours about what Monsanto has done to you. Monsanto often says there have only been a few cases, but we don’t really know because farmers have to sign this non-disclosure statement.
Another point. You must pay Monsanto $15/acre per year licence fee for the privilege of growing GMOs and in the 2003 contract they’ve added another clause - you can no longer sue Monsanto for whatever reason. You can never take Monsanto to court. That is their contract.
Another important issue, you must permit Monsanto’s detectives to come onto your land or look in your granaries for three years after you sign this contract, even though you may only grow it one year. And who is Monsanto’s police force? They’re former RCMP officers. They go under the name of Robinson Investigation Services of Saskatoon and they cover all of Canada. In the US it’s the Pickerton Investigation Services.
In Monsanto’s advertisements they say that if you think your neighbour is growing GM canola or soybeans without license you should inform on them. If you do this you get a free leather jacket from Monsanto. Believe me, there aren’t many people on the prairies now wearing a new Monsanto jacket.
What happens when Monsanto gets this tip or rumour? They immediately send out two of their detectives. We call them gene police on the Prairies. They’ll go to the farmer’s home or farmyard and say to him or his wife that they have this tip. But, first of all, they’ll always say they are ex-RCMP and a lot of times the farmers don’t hear the “ex.” They only hear police. It’s a form of intimidation.
They’ll say they have a tip or a rumour that you’re growing GM canola without a licence and the farmer will say No, that he or she has never had anything to do with it and doesn’t want to grow it. The farmer is often told that he is lying and if he doesn’t confess Monsanto will drag him through the courts and the farmer won’t have a farm left. So, it’s real harassment and intimidation of farmers by these gene police.
Now what do you think happens when these detectives leave the farmer’s home? The farmer will wonder which neighbour caused him the trouble. So, now we have the breakdown of farmers not trusting one another and afraid to talk to one another. We have the breakdown of our rural farm culture and society where farmers are not working together or trusting one another.
My grandparents came from Europe in the late 1890s. I’m a third generation farmer and our families had to work together to build our society, our infrastructure, our schools, our roads and our hospitals. Now you have that breakdown of working together, and I think this is one of the worst things that could happen, with the introduction of GMOs.
Now, Monsanto doesn’t even stop there. Believe me, on this issue I’ve had I don’t know how many farm wives crying on the phone after Monsanto’ police have been there saying, “What can we do? They’ve threatened us.” And I’ll try to get them proper legal advice. That’s the whole fear culture where farmers are even scared to talk to one another.
The other means of control is what can be considered extortion letters.
This has been done all across America. We don’t know how many thousands of these letters have been sent out; I have quite a number of them. The letters state: we have reason to believe that you might be growing Monsanto’s GM canola or soybeans without a licence. We estimate you might have 200, 300 or 500 acres. In lieu of us not taking you to court send us $100,000 or $200,000. I’ve got one here for $190,000. This one here is for $30,000 because they think someone might be growing GM canola.
Can you imagine the fear in a farm family when they get a letter from a multibillion dollar corporation asking for many thousands of dollars so the company might not take them to court?!
Another clause: You’re not allowed to show this letter to anyone and you’re not allowed to tell anyone that you’ve received this letter from Monsanto or what Monsanto has done to you. So, a total suppression of farmers rights, freedom of speech and expression.
If they can’t find a farmer at home and they don’t know his mailing address, they can go to the local municipality and get the location of his land. They will then use a small airplane or helicopter and drop a Monsanto Roundup herbicide spray bomb on the field. It covers about 30 feet in diameter, in the centre of a canola or soybean field.
About 12 days after Roundup has time to activate, they’ll fly back. If the crop, which was hit by the spray, has died they’ll know the farmer has not been using Monsanto’s Roundup, but if it hasn’t died, God help the farmer.
These are the tactics. I’m talking about Canada and the US. This is what a multinational corporation is doing here.
I’ve talked about our rural social fabric being broken down and how our freedom is threatened as farmers. Two other very important issues come out of this.
First, with the introduction of GMOs always remember there is no such thing as containment. Once you introduce a life form, a life-giving form, into the environment there is no calling back. You cannot contain the wind. You cannot contain the seed movement through cross-pollination - birds, bees, and other animals. You cannot contain it and it will spread as it has on the Prairies.
The other important issue is there is no such thing as co-existence.
Believe me, as a farmer for half a century, I know that once you introduce a GMO gene into the environment, into any seed or plant, it’s a dominant gene. It will eventually take over whatever species of plants it gets into. You can’t have GMOs in the country and have organic or conventional farmers.
It will all eventually become GMOs. That is the danger. There is no more choice left. Believe me, organic farmers on the Prairies no longer can grow soybeans or canola. All our seed supply is now contaminated with GMOs. Those choices have been taken away for both conventional and organic farmers.
The other issue to remember is canola comes from the brassica family, which includes close cousins such as radishes, turnips and cauliflower. It is now cross-pollinating into the close cousins.
Therefore, we’re again destroying many crops that organic farmers no longer can raise.
The other issue is wheat. If GM wheat is ever given regulatory approval, which is before the federal government right now, it will totally destroy the organic farmers because wheat comes from the grass family and again will cross-pollinate into both the close and even the distant cousins in canola and wild mustard. So, remember there’s no such thing as containment or co-existence.
When Monsanto or the other corporations that promote GMO say they’ll make buffer strips of so many feet, half a mile or a kilometre or so - there’s no such thing as a safe distance. A whirlwind or especially all the geese and ducks we have on the prairies. It passes through these birds after they eat it and they may fly 50 or 100 miles.
I get asked a lot why farmers ever started to grow GMOs when they were introduced in 1996. At that time Monsanto told farmers, among other things, that it would be a bigger yield, that it was more nutritious and used less chemicals. I think the third point is really what caught the farmers’ ears because on the prairies since 1946-47, after the Second World War, farmers started using chemicals by the hundreds of tons each year. A lot were highly potent and farmers realized the damage being done to the environment, human health and animals.
There were other things Monsanto said and you’ll hear the same thing today: We’ll now be able to feed a hungry world. We’ll always have sustainable agriculture. Well, believe me, to feed a hungry world doesn’t take the Monsantos of this world. What it takes to feed a hungry world is politics, transportation and economics.
When I speak to farmers in Third World countries - Africa, India, Bangladesh and so on - I tell them at least they have a choice left. We don’t have a choice left for many of our grains in Canada. It’s all contaminated. And we didn’t have anybody to come and tell us what could happen. We believed Monsanto, but worst of all we believed our own federal government and they let us down on the introduction of GMOs.
They were developed in government agricultural research stations across the Prairies, so Ottawa is fully responsible. They also worked with Monsanto to develop GM wheat on government test plots and research stations. Now it has been reported that if GM wheat is introduced and the government gives regulatory approval the government will get a royalty from Monsanto on every bushel.
We’re saying that if the government is going to receive royalties from Monsanto on GM wheat how much has it already received on sales of GM canola all these years? So it’s coming out that the government has been in bed with Monsanto giving them regulatory approval and worked for them to develop the GMOs.
In a statement to the media Chris Jordan, Monsanto’s communications manager for Canada, based in Winnipeg, stated that all these millions of dollars that they collected from farmers is given to charities, they don’t keep it. So, the question has been asked of Monsanto to name one charity they have given the money to from fines. They have not replied.
Within two to three years after the introduction of GM canola on the Prairies, through cross-pollination, our regular plants became a super weed.
Monsanto wasn’t the only company at that time selling GMOs, so, there were now the GMOs from three companies combined in one canola plant which now took at least three chemicals to control and kill. All Monsanto said was, “No problem. We’ve now come up with a new, more super-toxic chemical to kill the new super weed.” So everything they said about less chemicals turned out to be false. Now their yield is down about 6.4 percent on canola. The US Department of Agriculture has admitted that soybeans yield is down at least 15 percent. So now we have less yield.
The third issue of nutrition is that what they’re not saying is the quality is way poorer, maybe half, of conventional canola. I won’t go into why that is, but it’s primarily with the erucic acid content, the greens in canola, which makes it more bitter for cooking.
So, now we have less yield, more chemical use, a new super weed and the quality is much poorer.
I’ll say that if anything is going to lead to starvation or hunger it’s the introduction of GMOs around the world.
I haven’t touched on the economic issue. We as Canadians cannot sell one bushel of canola to the EU, so one-third of our markets have gone and our prices have dropped. Now they want to introduce GM wheat where even the Canadian Wheat Board said we would lose over 80 percent of our market.
I was in Japan a couple of months ago and I have a statement by the millers, the processors and the consumers of Japan and South Korea which says what contracts will be canceled if we introduce GM wheat. That’s how serious it is.
I mentioned a bit about pharmaceutical plants. That is the worst curse that has come in with the introduction of GMOs. I went through the whole 50 years of the development of chemicals after WWII and then GMOs since the ’80s. Now the introduction of prescription drugs from GM plants - there were about 300 test plots in North America last year.
In the US there are six major drugs now being produced by plants. I’m told by scientists from universities in Indiana, Ohio and Nebraska that there is already cross-pollination with close cousins of these species. The pharmaceutical plants are primarily sunflowers and corn, or maize. Some of the prescription drugs being produced by plants are vaccines, industrial enzymes, blood thinners, blood clotting proteins, growth hormones and contraceptive drugs. These are all prescription drugs now being produced by plants which are in the open.
I can’t believe that our governments are permitting prescription drugs to be produced in the open. Plants are a cheap way of producing drugs compared to laboratories.
What if someone has major surgery and then eats a food laced with a blood thinner, or if a pregnant woman eats a food laced with a contraceptive? The introduction of what they call pharma-plants, or prescription drug plants, is the worst curse that is coming. Whether it’s GM wheat or soybeans these prescription drugs are something we should all be concerned about.
What can we do? I think all of us must contact our MPs and members of the cabinet as they have done in Europe and Japan. We have the right to know what we’re eating. If people knew what they were eating, 90 percent of the Canadian people would not eat GMO foods.
I haven’t spoken on the environmental issues or the issue of the safety of food, but in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and England, extensive testing has been done on the health dangers of eating GMO products.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency did not do one bit of testing. They only used the data supplied to them by Monsanto. Japanese and Netherland governments are now saying that the CFIA reached a fraudulent conclusion.
I forwarded these documents to the CFIA two weeks ago. I haven’t had a reply. I also discussed it with them on the phone. What results we’ll get I don’t know.
To give you another example, before I came here to Vancouver I received a call from Germany. On German national television on Monday night there was a story about a farmer who had illegally grown GMOs. I don’t know if it was soybeans or corn, but he had fed it to his cattle and his cattle all died. He contacted me to ask if he could use some of my documents that were submitted to the Supreme Court.
He said the reason it’s just coming out now is because he didn’t say anything to the authorities. He’d been growing it illegally. One of the GMO companies had gotten him to do it. When his neighbours heard that his cattle had died there was an inquiry and he finally admitted he had grown GMOs. That is just one example.
I can give you all kinds of examples from the US where pigs fed GM soybeans will not reproduce. Once they are off that feed they start to reproduce again.
However, my emphasis is really on farmers’ rights, the rights to use one’s own seed from year to year. The judge in my first case ruled that although farmers in Canada have the right by federal law to use their seed from year to year, Monsanto’s patent law is over and above all farmers’ rights. Farmers do not have any rights over patent law.
Another issue is that I never used Monsanto’s patent and in Canada patent infringement is when you use a patent. To use their patent I would have had to spray their chemical Roundup on my crop and I never did that. The judge ruled that that was immaterial. He said the fact that plants were growing in the ditch along my field meant the patent was violated.
At that time I had two scientists pull samples from all my fields. I had eight fields of canola in 1998. These were sent to the University of Manitoba and they tested the seeds and found that two of my fields had no contamination. Others had one percent, some had two percent and one had eight percent. In the ditch along the fields where we first noticed it, contamination was around 60 percent.
The judge said it didn’t matter. Even with the fields that had no contamination he said because I was a seed saver and was using my seed from year to year there was a probability there could be some of Monsanto’s GMOs in those fields also, so the crop all goes to Monsanto.
So, even on a probability you can lose your rights overnight. That’s why my case became so well known worldwide. Remember, it’s a total control of the world’s seed supply they’re after and whoever controls that will control the food supply. In many Third World nations whoever controls the food supply controls the nation.
I have a lot of confidence in the Supreme Court of Canada and I’m sure they’ll rule in favour of the rights of people to use their own seed from year to year.
I have photos to show you how fields have been contaminated and of Monsanto’s gene police in farmer’s fields. These detectives go into any fields they choose to without permission and steal seeds or plants to check on them. If a farmer catches them trespassing they will laugh at the farmer and make threats.
When farmers hear what my wife and I have gone through with five years of legal battles and about $300,000 in court costs and legal fees how can any farmer stand up to them?
There is no justice for an average person. You cannot stand up to a multibillion-dollar corporation in court. I would not have been able to do it without people from all over the world, organizations and foundations. To give you an extent of the ruthlessness of Monsanto, about a year ago they took me back to court on the issue of their costs.
They sued me for $1 million this time because they said I was arrogant, stubborn and didn’t do what they wanted.
So, what did the judge rule on that case? He ruled that I have to pay Monsanto $153,000 for their court costs.
I think there was some humour in this because they had to itemize what some of that million dollars was comprised of. There was $1,100 for a digital camera they said they used in court - well, you know, you can’t use a camera in court in Canada. The other issue, which I found slightly humorous, was $1,500 for light entertainment of Monsanto’s lawyers while the court was on. I couldn’t help but ask what light entertainment the lawyers had.
After the judge awarded them the $153,000 what did they do? They then put a lien on all our land and even our house so I could no longer borrow any more money to fight them. They tried to stop me financially. They tried to break us down mentally. They would come into our driveway and sometimes park all day. When my wife came out of the house they would take off. They watched us day after day when we worked in our fields.
They try to intimidate us. A farmer in North Dakota, who they also had a lawsuit against, said they even followed his children to school as a means of intimidation and harassment to bring people down. As I said, this is what’s happening in North America.
In conclusion, why did we stand up to Monsanto? My wife and I are 72 and 73. We don’t know how many good years we have left and we look at it this way: as a grandfather I ask what kind of legacy I want to leave to my grandchildren. My grandparents and parents left a legacy of land. I don’t want to leave a legacy to my children of land, air and water full of poisons. I’m sure all of you tonight feel the same way.
So, we will go on fighting for the rights of farmers all over the world to be able to use their own seed.
From a speech by Percy Schmeiser December 10, 2003 at Vancouver’s central library sponsored by Council for Canadians www.canadians.org
If you can assist financially with the legal challenge facing Percy please go to www.percyschmeiser.com or send your contribution to Fight Genetically Altered Food Fund Inc., Box 3743, Humboldt, SK, S0K 2A0
(We may not agree that Canola is food, but we certainly do agree that farmer’s should have the freedom to grow their own seed without risking infection from GM crops. Certainly, virulent non-food Canola weeds taking over the prairies of Canada is a very scary possibility - Ed)
For more on the GMO controversy follow these links.
www.scholarly societies.org/soilsci _soc.html
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today invited individuals and organisations with an interest in the regulation of food to provide information and comment on a number of applications to amend the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Submissions should be in FSANZ’s hands by Wednesday 6 February 2008.
Here’s a quick look at the enemy:
Food derived from glyphosate-tolerant cotton variety GHB614 (Application A614 -Initial Assessment)
Bayer CropScience is seeking approval for food derived from glyphosate-tolerant cotton, line GHB614 - a cotton variety that has been genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to glyphosate herbicide. FSANZ must undertake a pre-market safety assessment of GM crops before approving their use for human consumption. The oil and linters of this cotton variety are intended for use in food. We invite the views of interested parties.
Food derived from insect-protected cotton line COT67B (Application A615 - Initial Assessment)
Syngenta Seeds Pty Ltd has applied to FSANZ to approve food derived from cotton genetically modified to provide resistance to Lepidopteran species. Oil and linters are the only food products derived from cotton. We will only approve the application if we are satisfied that the GM food is as safe as its non-GM counterpart. We are seeking the views of interested parties.
Food derived from insect-protected corn MON 89034 (Application A595 - Draft Assessment)
Monsanto Australia Ltd wants FSANZ to amend the Code to approve food derived from a GM corn, MON 89034, that has been modified to provide protection against major insect pests. All GM foods must undergo a pre-market safety assessment before they can be sold in Australia and New Zealand. We intend to recommend approval and welcome information and comment.
Submissions: FSANZ welcomes public comment from industry, public health professionals, government agencies and consumers. Details of all the assessments above can be found on www.foodstandards.gov.au.
If you are a member of the Getup organisation, this is a great time to bring the GM issue to the notice of the new Federal government. It appears to be far more likely than the previous government to recognise the potential hazards.
Let’s make a GE Free Australia one of our priorities for the new Federal government. They should have at least some influence over the state governments.
To quickly, easily and effectively have your say, before it’s too late, visit any or all of the following web pages by clicking the links.
About the Author...
Percy Schmeiser (born January 5, 1931) is a farmer from Bruno, Saskatchewan, Canada. He specializes in breeding and growing canola. He became an international symbol and spokesperson for independent farmers' rights and the regulation of transgenic crops during his protracted legal battle with agrichemical giant Monsanto.